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Research at Rice may help explain aspects of synesthesia
Date:9/26/2007

A research team led by Rice University Psychology Professor Tony Ro has published its findings that may help to explain the phenomenon known as synesthesia, in which stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory pathway.

Ro's paper, Feeling Sounds After a Thalamic Lesion, can be found in the Annals of Neurology, the official journal of the American Neurological Association. The journal is available online via Wiley InterScience at http://www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/ana.

The ventrolateral nucleus (VL) of the thalamus is connected to the cerebellum and motor cortex and therefore thought to be involved in motor function. Ro's study found that the VL also plays a role in sensory processing and that damage to this area leads to functional and neural changes.

Ro's team conducted a series of behavioral and neuroimaging studies on a patient who had suffered a stroke affecting only the right VL, a rare occurrence. She had reported changes to her sensory abilities, such as bumping into the left sides of doorways or veering right when driving as a result of decreased sensations on the affected (left) side, but was otherwise normal. The patient was tested using visual and tactile stimuli and also underwent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans, an imaging method that uses a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner to visualize the neuron fibers and connectivity in the brain. Experiments were conducted one, three and six years following the patients stroke.

In the years following her stroke, the patient experienced a dramatic change in her sensory perception: when she heard certain sounds, she felt tingling and other sensations in the left side of her body, especially her left arm. The results suggest that the VL lesion resulted in a significant amount of functional and neural reorganization that influenced sensory perce
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Contact: Franz Brotzen
franz.brotzen@rice.edu
713-348-6775
Rice University
Source:Eurekalert

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