Background: It is believed that the number of neurons of the human cortex increases rapidly in the first postnatal year, and then decreases gradually towards adult level as their functions are revised up to 11 years of age ('synaptic revision'). It is also confirmed that regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) at rest represents the density of the neurons and decreases in accordance with the synaptic revision in process. If synaptic revision does not occur, rCBF remains at high level. Thus, we can evaluate whether functional differentiation has occurred in the human cortex by measuring rCBF at resting state. Objective: To examine functional differentiation of the auditory association area (A2) in prelingually deaf subjects. Methods: Six postlingually and six prelingually deaf subjects who had undergone cochlear implant (CI) were involved in the current study. All prelingually deaf subjects underwent CI over 8 years old. The rCBF in A2 was examined during resting and listening to speech sounds using positron emission tomography (PET) and H2/15O intravenous injection. Twelve normal subjects' rCBFs were also measured as control. Furthermore, three prelingually deaf subjects underwent follow up PET studies in which cortical activities in A2 for listening and lipreading were examined. Results: In the examination of rCBF at rest, rCBFs of prelingually deaf subjects in A2 showed significantly higher than those of either the postlingually deaf subjects or normal subjects. During listening, rCBFs in A2 increased in postlingually deaf subjects and normal subjects, while there was no significant rCBF increase in the prelingually deaf. High rCBF level in A2 at rest observed in prelingually deaf subjects implied a lack of synaptic revision, and it was suggested that the functional differentiation for auditory processing was little in the A2 of prelingually deaf subjects. In the follow up study for three prelingually deaf subjects, activation of A2 was observed during lipreading but not during listening in two cases, who had developed the skill of lipreading while speech recognition was not improved by CI. In contrast, the other case had not used any visual clues in daily communication prior to CI, and the hearing acuity was well improved by CI. This case demonstrated an activity in A2 during listening, while lipreading induced no activation. Conclusion: It is suggested that functional differentiation of A2 should differ according to which of visual and auditory clue is chiefly used during critical periods for speech acquisition. The findings are thought to be important for us to schedule the education and treatment for prelingually deaf children. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.
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