Visual influences on ferret auditory cortex.
Bizley JK., King AJ.
Multisensory neurons are now known to be widespread in low-level regions of the cortex usually thought of as being responsible for modality-specific processing. The auditory cortex provides a particularly striking example of this, exhibiting responses to both visual and somatosensory stimulation. Single-neuron recording studies in ferrets have shown that each of auditory fields that have been characterized using physiological and anatomical criteria also receives visual inputs, with the incidence of visually-sensitive neurons ranging from 15% to 20% in the primary areas to around 50% or more in higher-level areas. Although some neurons exhibit spiking responses to visual stimulation, these inputs often have subthreshold influences that modulate the responses of the cortical neurons to sound. Insights into the possible role played by the visual inputs can be obtained by examining their sources of origin and the way in which they alter the processing capabilities of neurons in the auditory cortex. These studies suggest that one of the functions of the visual input to auditory cortex is to sharpen the relatively imprecise spatial coding typically found there. Because the extent to which this happens varies between cortical fields, the investigation of multisensory interactions can also help in understanding their relative contributions to auditory perception.