Background: Neurons in primary auditory cortex are known to be sensitive to the locations of sounds in space, but the reference frame for this spatial sensitivity has not been investigated. Conventional wisdom holds that the auditory and visual pathways employ different reference frames, with the auditory pathway using a head-centered reference frame and the visual pathway using an eye-centered reference frame. Reconciling these discrepant reference frames is therefore a critical component of multisensory integration.
Results: We tested the reference frame of neurons in the auditory cortex of primates trained to fixate visual stimuli at different orbital positions. We found that eye position altered the activity of about one third of the neurons in this region (35 of 113, or 31%). Eye position affected not only the responses to sounds (26 of 113, or 23%), but also the spontaneous activity (14 of 113, or 12%). Such effects were also evident when monkeys moved their eyes freely in the dark. Eye position and sound location interacted to produce a representation for auditory space that was neither head- nor eye-centered in reference frame.
Conclusions: Taken together with emerging results in both visual and other auditory areas, these findings suggest that neurons whose responses reflect complex interactions between stimulus position and eye position set the stage for the eventual convergence of auditory and visual information.