Improved auditory spatial acuity in visually deprived ferrets.
King AJ., Parsons CH.
We have examined the effects on auditory spatial acuity in the horizontal plane of depriving ferrets of patterned visual cues by binocular eyelid suture in infancy or for a comparable period in adulthood. Minimum audible angles (MAAs) were measured for 500-, 100- and 40-ms broadband noise bursts at the midline and at 45 degrees to one side. A logistic regression analysis revealed no consistent difference between the midline MAAs of normal and infant lid-sutured ferrets. However, the lateral field MAAs of the infant-deprived group were significantly smaller and showed less inter-subject variability than those of normal-sighted ferrets. The animals deprived in adulthood were tested in the lateral field only, firstly 6 months after binocular eyelid suture and again after a further 10 months. For the first test, the MAAs achieved by these animals with 500- and 100-ms noise bursts were significantly smaller than the normal values and no different from those of the infant-deprived group. A significant improvement in performance at the two shortest stimulus durations (100 and 40 ms) was observed when the adult-deprived animals were re-tested. Their second-test MAAs did not differ from those of the infant-deprived group at any of the three stimulus durations used, and both groups achieved significantly better scores than the normal-sighted control animals. These results show that prolonged visual deprivation in both juvenile and adult ferrets can lead to a significant improvement in auditory spatial acuity in the lateral sound field. This is consistent with reports that congenitally blind humans can localize peripheral sounds more accurately than normal controls.