Neural bases of visual processing of moving and stationary stimuli presented to the blind hemifield of hemianopic patients
Unilateral damage to post-chiasmatic visual pathways or cortical areas results in the loss of vision in the contralateral hemifield, known as hemianopia. Some patients, however, may retain the ability to perform an above chance unconscious detection or discrimination of visual stimuli presented to the blind hemifield, known as "blindsight". An important finding in blindsight research is that it can often be elicited by moving stimuli. Therefore, in the present study, we wanted to test whether
... ving stimuli might yield blindsight phenomena in patients with cortical lesions resulting in hemianopia, in a discrimination task where stimulus movement is orthogonal to the feature of interest. This could represent an important strategy for rehabilitation because it might improve discrimination ability of stimulus features different but related to movement, e.g. line orientation. We tested eight hemianopic patients and eight age-matched healthy controls in an orientation discrimination task with moving or static visual stimuli. During performance of the task we carried out fMRI scanning and tractography. Behaviourally, we did not find a reliable main effect of motion on orientation discrimination; however, an important result was that in different patients blindsight could occur only with moving or stationary stimuli or with both. As to brain imaging results, following presentation of moving stimuli to the blind hemifield, a widespread fronto-parietal bilateral network was recruited including areas of the dorsal stream and in particular bilateral motion area hMT + whose activation positively correlated with behavioural performance. This bilateral network was not activated in controls suggesting that it represents a compensatory functional change following brain damage. Moreover, there was a higher activation of ipsilesional area hMT+ in patients who performed above chance in the moving condition. By contrast, in patients who performed above chance in the static condition, we found a higher activation of contralesional area V1 and extrastriate visual areas. Finally, we found a linear relationship between structural integrity of the ipsilesional pathway connecting lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) with motion area hMT+ and both behavioural performance and ipsilesional hMT + activation. These results support the role of LGN in modulating performance as well as BOLD amplitude in the absence of visual awareness in ipsilesional area hMT+ during an orientation discrimination task with moving stimuli.