Harold Burton, PhD

Professor of Neuroscience


Research in the Burton laboratory explores possible reorganization in human cerebral cortex in the presence of sensory aberrations. Combined in these studies are functional brain imaging and behavioral assessments in individuals with some sensory deficit compared to age matched normal controls. Prior studies with people blind from birth showed reorganization in their visual cortex that included extensive cross-modal activation to auditory and tactile stimulation and during memory and language tasks. In the blind the lab further discovered increased resting state functional connectivity between visual cortex and cognitive control regions in frontal and parietal cortex that possibly reflect behavioral enhancement of working memory and attention in adaption to blindness. Technically comparable studies investigated reorganized cortex in two other patient groups. Individuals with bothersome tinnitus who showed deficient attention behavior also had altered functional connectivity between cortical networks for vision and attention. Patients with cerebral palsy who showed deficits in tactile and kinesthesia abilities also had reduced cortical responses to tactile stimulation of the fingertips and disrupted functional connectivity maps throughout somatosensory cortex.

Ongoing research in individuals with adult onset unilateral deafness shows auditory cortex reorganization that involves accentuated activation to acoustic stimulation in the cortical hemisphere ipsilateral to the intact ear. These cortical changes correlate with observed deficits in sound localization and speech recognition in the presence of noise. A current study examines whether underlying a speech recognition deficit is augmented activity in frontal cortex regions involved in semantic processing when attempting to understand degraded speech heard only with one intact ear.

Another project evaluates a novel eight channel sieve electrode for peripheral nerve interface to stimulate sensory axons electrically in a forearm nerve of behaving non-human primates. A goal is to show that the monkey interprets as behaviorally relevant selective stimulation to specific regions within a peripheral nerve. We train monkeys on a multiple-alternative forced choice task where each stimulated nerve sector corresponds to a choice target. Another goal is to record from primate somatosensory cortex to compare the effect of chronic peripheral nerve stimulation on responses to electrical vs. tactile stimulation, to assess response stability (variance) to repeated stimulation of a nerve sector, and to examine somatotopography for possible plasticity in the map in the stimulated nerve region. A long-term translational objective of investigating the capabilities of the sieve electrode is for control of a prosthetic limb with embedded haptic sensors the activation of which concurrently stimulates sensory axons in a stump nerve of an amputee with an implanted electrode.

Selected publications

  • MacEwan MR, Zellmer ER, Wheeler JJ, Burton H, Moran DW. Regenerated sciatic nerve axons stimulated through a chronically implanted macro-sieve electrode. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2016; 10:557.
  • Burton H, Snyder AZ, Raichle ME. Resting state functional connectivity in early blind humans. Front Sys Neurosci. 2014; 8:51. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00051.
  • Firszt JB, Reeder RM, Holden TA, Burton H, Chole. RS. Changes resulting from hearing recovery after extended congenital unilateral hearing loss. Front Sys Neurosci. 2013; 7:108. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2013.00108.
  • Burton H, Firszt JB, Holden T. Hearing thresholds and fMRI of auditory cortex following eighth cranial nerve surgery. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013; 149(3):492-499. doi: 10.1177/0194599813495179.
  • Roland JL, Hacker CD, Breshears JD, Gaona CM, Hogan RE, Burton H, Corbetta M, Leuthardt EC. Brain mapping in a patient with congenital blindness ─ a case for multimodal approaches. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013; 7:431. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00431.
  • Burton H, Firszt JB, Holden T, Agato A, Uchanski R. Activation lateralization in human core, belt, and parabelt auditory fields with unilateral deafness and normal hearing. Brain Research. 2012; 1454:33-47 doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.02.066.
  • Burton H, Sinclair RJ, Agato A. Recognition memory for Braille or spoken words: An fMRI study in early blind. Brain Research. 2012; 1438:22-34. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2011.12.032.


1964 BA, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

1968 PhD, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI

1968-70 Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Wisconsin

Selected honors

1964 Magna cum laude, University of Michigan

1964-1965 University of Wisconsin Scholar Predoctoral Fellowship

1966-1967 NSF Predoctoral Fellowship

1985-1992 Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award