Functional connectivity between the superficial and deeper layers of the superior colliculus: an anatomical substrate for sensorimotor integration

J Neurosci. 2003 Jul 23;23(16):6596-607. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.23-16-06596.2003.


The superior colliculus (SC) transforms both visual and nonvisual sensory signals into motor commands that control orienting behavior. Although the afferent and efferent connections of this midbrain nucleus have been well characterized, little is know about the intrinsic circuitry involved in sensorimotor integration. Transmission of visual signals from the superficial (sSC) to the deeper layers (dSC) of the SC has been implicated in both the triggering of orienting movements and the activity-dependent processes that align maps of different sensory modalities during development. However, evidence for the synaptic connectivity appropriate for these functions is lacking. In this study, we used a variety of anatomical and physiological methods to examine the functional organization of the sSC-dSC pathway in juvenile and adult ferrets. Axonal tracing in adult ferrets showed that, as in other species, sSC neurons project topographically to the dSC, providing a route for the transmission of visual signals to the multisensory output layers of the SC. We found that sSC axons terminate on dSC neurons that stain prominently for the NR1 subunit of the NMDA receptor, a subpopulation of which were identified as tectoreticulospinal projection neurons. We also show that the sSC-dSC pathway is topographically organized and mediated by monosynaptic excitatory synapses even before eye opening in young ferrets, suggesting that visual signals routed via the sSC may influence the activity of dSC neurons before the emergence of their multisensory response properties. These findings indicate that superficial- to deep-layer projections provide spatially ordered visual signals, both during development and into adulthood, directly to SC neurons that are involved in coordinating sensory inputs with motor outputs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Biotin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Carbocyanines
  • Coloring Agents
  • Dextrans
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Ferrets
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Lysine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / biosynthesis
  • Superior Colliculi / cytology*
  • Superior Colliculi / growth & development
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / cytology*
  • Visual Pathways / growth & development
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*


  • Carbocyanines
  • Coloring Agents
  • Dextrans
  • NR1 NMDA receptor
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • biotinylated dextran amine
  • Biotin
  • biocytin
  • Lysine