Sounds and beyond: multisensory and other non-auditory signals in the inferior colliculus.

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The inferior colliculus (IC) is a major processing center situated mid-way along both the ascending and descending auditory pathways of the brain stem. Although it is fundamentally an auditory area, the IC also receives anatomical input from non-auditory sources. Neurophysiological studies corroborate that non-auditory stimuli can modulate auditory processing in the IC and even elicit responses independent of coincident auditory stimulation. In this article, we review anatomical and physiological evidence for multisensory and other non-auditory processing in the IC. Specifically, the contributions of signals related to vision, eye movements and position, somatosensation, and behavioral context to neural activity in the IC will be described. These signals are potentially important for localizing sound sources, attending to salient stimuli, distinguishing environmental from self-generated sounds, and perceiving and generating communication sounds. They suggest that the IC should be thought of as a node in a highly interconnected sensory, motor, and cognitive network dedicated to synthesizing a higher-order auditory percept rather than simply reporting patterns of air pressure detected by the cochlea. We highlight some of the potential pitfalls that can arise from experimental manipulations that may disrupt the normal function of this network, such as the use of anesthesia or the severing of connections from cortical structures that project to the IC. Finally, we note that the presence of these signals in the IC has implications for our understanding not just of the IC but also of the multitude of other regions within and beyond the auditory system that are dependent on signals that pass through the IC. Whatever the IC "hears" would seem to be passed both "upward" to thalamus and thence to auditory cortex and beyond, as well as "downward" via centrifugal connections to earlier areas of the auditory pathway such as the cochlear nucleus.





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Gruters, Kurtis G, and Jennifer M Groh (2012). Sounds and beyond: multisensory and other non-auditory signals in the inferior colliculus. Frontiers in neural circuits, 6(DEC). p. 96. 10.3389/fncir.2012.00096 Retrieved from

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Jennifer M. Groh

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Research in my laboratory concerns how sensory and motor systems work together, and how neural representations play a combined role in sensorimotor and cognitive processing (embodied cognition).

Most of our work concerns the interactions between vision and hearing. We frequently perceive visual and auditory stimuli as being bound together if they seem likely to have arisen from a common source. That's why we tend not to notice that the speakers on TV sets or in movie theatres are located beside, and not behind, the screen. Research in my laboratory is devoted to investigating the question of how the brain coordinates the information arising from the ears and eyes. Our findings challenge the historical view of the brain's sensory processing as being automatic, autonomous, and immune from outside influence. We have recently established that neurons in the auditory pathway (inferior colliculus, auditory cortex) alter their responses to sound depending on where the eyes are pointing. This finding suggests that the different sensory pathways meddle in one another's supposedly private affairs, making their respective influences felt even at very early stages of processing. The process of bringing the signals from two different sensory pathways into a common frame of reference begins at a surprisingly early point along the primary sensory pathways.

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