Background: Efficient multisensory integration is of vital importance for adequate interaction with the environment. In addition to basic binding cues like temporal and spatial coherence, meaningful multisensory information is also bound together by content-based associations. Many functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies propose the (posterior) superior temporal cortex (STC) as the key structure for integrating meaningful multisensory information. However, a still unanswered question is how superior temporal cortex encodes content-based associations, especially in light of inconsistent results from studies comparing brain activation to semantically matching (congruent) versus nonmatching (incongruent) multisensory inputs. Here, we used fMR-adaptation (fMR-A) in order to circumvent potential problems with standard fMRI approaches, including spatial averaging and amplitude saturation confounds. We presented repetitions of audiovisual stimuli (letter-speech sound pairs) and manipulated the associative relation between the auditory and visual inputs (congruent/incongruent pairs). We predicted that if multisensory neuronal populations exist in STC and encode audiovisual content relatedness, adaptation should be affected by the manipulated audiovisual relation.
Results: The results revealed an occipital-temporal network that adapted independently of the audiovisual relation. Interestingly, several smaller clusters distributed over superior temporal cortex within that network, adapted stronger to congruent than to incongruent audiovisual repetitions, indicating sensitivity to content congruency.
Conclusions: These results suggest that the revealed clusters contain multisensory neuronal populations that encode content relatedness by selectively responding to congruent audiovisual inputs, since unisensory neuronal populations are assumed to be insensitive to the audiovisual relation. These findings extend our previously revealed mechanism for the integration of letters and speech sounds and demonstrate that fMR-A is sensitive to multisensory congruency effects that may not be revealed in BOLD amplitude per se.