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Plasticity in Sensory Systems, Jennifer K. E. Steeves, Laurence R. Harris, eds.

Mitchell, Donald E.

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Optometry and Vision Science: September 2013 - Volume 90 - Issue 9 - p e252
doi: 10.1097/OPX.0000000000000059
  • Free
Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press; 2013. $96.00

Although the title might suggest a broader mandate, this timely edited book reviews primarily the capacity for change (plasticity) in the visual system. All 12 contributing authors were participants at a conference on Plastic Vision in 2011 in Toronto that was organized by the editors. The book is divided into three sections, each with four chapters: Visual and Visuomotor Plasticity, Plasticity in Children and Plasticity in Adulthood, and Vision Rehabilitation.

Optometrists are very familiar with the traditional notion of neural plasticity in the visual system as an early period, often referred to as critical, during which unbalanced visual input to the two eyes can lead to reduced vision in one eye (amblyopia) and/or severe impairment of stereoscopic vision. It has long been asserted that correction of these deficits could only occur if interventions were initiated before a certain age. A chapter by Hess and Thompson opens with the anecdotal account of how the late Fergus Campbell would relate to new members of his laboratory his belief that in authoritative texts such as Duke-Elder’s System of Ophthalmology, the more dogmatic a statement was phrased, the more likely it was wrong. So confident was he of this assertion that he would use it to find possible research topics for new graduate students; he would open any volume of the set at random and locate a strongly asserted position to test. I might add that from my experience of Fergus, this scenario would probably be accompanied by a twinkle in Fergus’s eye, as he passed a beverage accompanied by one of own printed coasters on which was a phrase such as “publish or perish” to unsettle the student’s nerve and, as a consequence, the drink.

Many of the chapters in this fine book provide data to challenge the assertion that recovery from amblyopia occurs only in childhood. Chapters by Maurer and Lewis, Hess and Thompson, and by Barry all provide strong evidence of significant neural plasticity in adulthood that can be tapped by various innovative procedures. Optometrists will also find the other chapters very instructive as they address topics such as the wider shortcomings in amblyopia including visuomotor deficits, cross-modal plasticity as a consequence of enucleation of an eye or early blindness, as well as visual rehabilitative strategies.

Donald E. Mitchell

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

© 2013 American Academy of Optometry