Stanford University

Cortical Plasticity and Reading in Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Research Area

Grant Type



The brain changes in response to external factors across the life span (plasticity); but there is considerable disagreement about the degree of plasticity in many parts of the adult brain. With the development of neuroimaging methods, it is possible to measure plasticity in the visual cortex of the human brain. One important example concerns how the brain responds to loss of sensor input. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of visual impairment of people over the age of 50.

In this disease the central retina, known as the foveal retina or macular retina is damaged, creating a visual blind spot (scotoma). Central visual field loss is particularly problematic because we rely on the fovea to perform many important tasks, such as face and object recognition, and reading. At present, there are no methods for restoring the damage caused by AMD and treatment for the disease relies visual training for coping with the loss. The visual training is designed to develop strategies for using healthy peripheral retina locations (PRL) to perform tasks that are ordinarily performed with foveal fixation.

The aims of the fellowship are to measure how the visual cortex changes when the retina is damaged and a PRL develops. If visual cortex can reorganize, then clinicians would benefit from understanding the nature and limits of this reorganization. This understanding can guide the rehabilitation and training for individuals who develop retinal diseases.