Cross modal plasticity is the adaptive reorganization of neurons to integrate the function of two or more sensory systems. Cross modal plasticity is a type of neuroplasticity and often occurs after sensory deprivation due to disease or brain damage. The reorganization of the neural network is greatest following long-term sensory deprivation, such as congenital blindness or pre-lingual deafness. In these instances, cross modal plasticity can strengthen other sensory systems to compensate for the lack of vision or hearing. This strengthening is due to new connections that are formed to brain cortices that no longer receive sensory input.
Even though the blind are no longer able to see, the visual cortex is still in active use, although it deals with information different from visual input. Studies found that the volume of white matter (myelinated nerve connections) was reduced in the optic tract, but not in the primary visual cortex itself. However, grey matter volume was reduced by up to 25% in the primary visual cortex. The atrophy of grey matter, the neuron bodies, is likely due to its association with the optic tract.[Because the eyes no longer receive visual information, the disuse of the connected optic tract causes a loss of grey matter volume in the primary visual cortex. White matter is thought to atrophy in the same way, although the primary visual cortex is less affected.
Blind individuals show enhanced perceptual and attentional sensitivity for identification of different auditory stimuli, including speech sounds. The spatial detection of sound can be interrupted in the early blind by inducing a virtual lesion in the visual cortex using transcranial magnetic stimulation.