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Study offers clues to understanding childhood vision problems

Many people have either seen or know someone with a condition dubbed lazy eye,  cited as the most common visual impairment in children. The lazy, or amblyopic, eye is often healthy but circuits within the brain will favor processing things the child sees from just one of two eyes. If left untreated, this condition can affect a person’s ability to perceive depth. The result is stereo blindness. When both eyes are not wired to work together, life is viewed in two dimensions instead of the normal three most people can see.
Prakash Kara, Ph.D., Neurosciences assistant professor in the Darby Children’s Research Institute, and his colleagues discovered a functional map inside the brain using a new high-resolution laser imaging technology. Published in Nature (advanced online publication, Jan. 21), their work suggests how numerous brain cells related to 3-D vision work together to process and understand what is seen through both eyes at any given time.
“This study could have profound implications for our understanding of what might be happening in the brain in certain conditions such as neural blindness, where the eyes are fine, but the brain is not,” Kara said. “I am optimistic that what we’ve discovered will eventually contribute to the development of new behavioral training and pharmacological therapies for restoring function to the compromised brain circuits in various vision disorders that affect children.”
Supported by a grant from the National Eye Institute, Kara and his colleagues discovered that the brain cells related to seeing the environment in 3-D through both eyes are not scattered across the brain randomly. Instead, the cells are organized in a precise functional map, which optimally aligns itself with other visual maps in the brain. The unique arrangement of these maps in a normal, healthy brain serves as a benchmark for tracking changes in the wiring of circuits within the brain of children with various vision disorders, such as lazy eye. Consequently, Kara’s work will now focus on how the discovered functional maps inside the brain that direct normal vision are affected in specific types of lazy eye.


Friday, Feb. 6, 2009

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