Cortical blindness refers to the loss of vision that occurs after destruction of the primary visual cortex. Although there is no sensory cortex and hence no conscious vision, some cortically blind patients show amygdala activation in response to facial or bodily expressions of emotion. Here we investigated whether direction of gaze could also be processed in the absence of any functional visual cortex. A well-known patient with bilateral destruction of his visual cortex and subsequent cortical blindness was investigated in an fMRI paradigm during which blocks of faces were presented either with their gaze directed toward or away from the viewer. Increased right amygdala activation was found in response to directed compared with averted gaze. Activity in this region was further found to be functionally connected to a larger network associated with face and gaze processing. The present study demonstrates that, in human subjects, the amygdala response to eye contact does not require an intact primary visual cortex.
Burra, N., Hervais-Adelman, A., Kerzel, D., Tamietto, M., de Gelder, B., & Pegna, A. J. (2013). Amygdala activation for eye contact despite complete cortical blindness. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(25), 10483-10489. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3994-12.2013