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Science Reveals a Weird Truth About Eyesight and the Brain

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Commonly held belief is wrong, researcher says.

The visual cortex actually continues to develop until sometime in the late 30s or early 40s, a McMaster University neuroscientist and her colleagues have found.

Researchers and doctors previously believed the human brain’s vision-processing matured and stabilized in the first few years of life.
Kathryn Murphy, a professor in McMaster’s department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, looked at post-mortem brain-tissue samples from 30 people ranging in age from 20 days to 80 years.

According to a press release from the university: “Her analysis of proteins that drive the actions of neurons in the visual cortex at the back of the brain recasts previous understanding of when that part of the brain reaches maturity, extending the timeline until about age 36, plus or minus 4.5 years.”

The release describes the finding as a “surprise” to Murphy and her colleagues. They had expected to find that the cortex reached maturity stage by 5 to 6 years.

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“There’s a big gap in our understanding of how our brains function,” Murphy said. “Our idea of sensory areas developing in childhood and then being static is part of the challenge. It’s not correct.”

The research appears in The Journal of Neuroscience.

The finding could have big implications for eyecare.

The release notes: “Murphy says treatment for conditions such as amblyopia or ‘lazy eye,’ for example, have been based on the idea that only children could benefit from corrective therapies, since it was thought that treating young adults would be pointless because they had passed the age when their brains could respond.”

Read more from McMaster University

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