Age-related sensorineural hearing loss (HL) leads to localized brain changes in the primary auditory cortex, long-range functional alterations, and is considered a risk factor for dementia. Nonhuman studies have repeatedly highlighted cross-modal brain plasticity in sensorial brain networks other than those primarily involved in the peripheral damage, thus in this study, the possible cortical alterations associated with HL have been analyzed using a whole-brain multimodal connectomic approach. Fifty-two HL and 30 normal hearing participants were examined in a 3T MRI study along with audiological and neurological assessments. Between-regions functional connectivity and whole-brain probabilistic tractography were calculated in a connectome-based manner and graph theory was used to obtain low-dimensional features for the analysis of brain connectivity at global and local levels. The HL condition was associated with a different functional organization of the visual subnetwork as revealed by a significant increase in global efficiency, density, and clustering coefficient. These functional effects were mirrored by similar (but more subtle) structural effects suggesting that a functional repurposing of visual cortical centers occurs to compensate for age-related loss of hearing abilities.
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