Multisensory integration for orienting responses in humans requires the activation of the superior colliculus

Exp Brain Res. 2008 Mar;186(1):67-77. doi: 10.1007/s00221-007-1204-9. Epub 2007 Nov 16.


Animal studies have shown that the superior colliculus (SC) is important for synthesising information from multiple senses into a unified map of space. Here, we tested whether the SC is a critical neural substrate for multisensory spatial integration in humans. To do so, we took advantage of neurophysiological findings revealing that the SC does not receive direct projections from short-wavelength-sensitive S cones. In a simple reaction-time task, participants responded more quickly to concurrent peripheral (extra-foveal) audiovisual (AV) stimuli than to an auditory or visual stimulus alone, a phenomenon known as the redundant target effect (RTE). We show that the nature of this RTE was dependent on the colour of the visual stimulus. When using purple short-wavelength stimuli, to which the SC is blind, RTE was simply explained by probability summation, indicating that the redundant auditory and visual channels are independent. Conversely, with red long-wavelength stimuli, visible to the SC, the RTE was related to nonlinear neural summation, which constitutes evidence of integration of different sensory information. We also demonstrate that when AV stimuli were presented at fixation, so that the spatial orienting component of the task was reduced, neural summation was possible regardless of stimulus colour. Together, these findings provide support for a pivotal role of the SC in mediating multisensory spatial integration in humans, when behaviour involves spatial orienting responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology*
  • Color Perception
  • Fixation, Ocular
  • Humans
  • Lighting
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time*
  • Space Perception*
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*