Sensory experience and the formation of a computational map of auditory space in the brain.
The basic wiring of the brain is first established before birth by using a variety of molecular guidance cues. These connections are then refined by patterns of neural activity, which are initially generated spontaneously and subsequently driven by sensory experience. In the superior colliculus, a midbrain nucleus involved in the control of orienting behaviour, visual, auditory, and tactile inputs converge to form superimposed maps of sensory space. Maps of visual space and of the body surface arise from spatially ordered projections from the retina and skin, respectively. In contrast, the map of auditory space is computed within the brain by tuning the neurons to different localization cues that result from the acoustical properties of the head and ears. Establishing and maintaining the registration of the maps in the face of individual differences in the size and relative positions of different sense organs is an activity-dependent process in which the synaptic circuits underlying the auditory representation are modified and calibrated under the influence of both auditory and visual experience. BioEssays 1999;21:900-911.