Sound-induced enhancement of low-intensity vision: multisensory influences on human sensory-specific cortices and thalamic bodies relate to perceptual enhancement of visual detection sensitivity

J Neurosci. 2010 Oct 13;30(41):13609-23. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4524-09.2010.


Combining information across modalities can affect sensory performance. We studied how co-occurring sounds modulate behavioral visual detection sensitivity (d'), and neural responses, for visual stimuli of higher or lower intensity. Co-occurrence of a sound enhanced human detection sensitivity for lower- but not higher-intensity visual targets. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) linked this to boosts in activity-levels for sensory-specific visual and auditory cortex, plus multisensory superior temporal sulcus (STS), specifically for a lower-intensity visual event when paired with a sound. Thalamic structures in visual and auditory pathways, the lateral and medial geniculate bodies, respectively (LGB, MGB), showed a similar pattern. Subject-by-subject psychophysical benefits correlated with corresponding fMRI signals in visual, auditory, and multisensory regions. We also analyzed differential "coupling" patterns of LGB and MGB with other regions in the different experimental conditions. Effective-connectivity analyses showed enhanced coupling of sensory-specific thalamic bodies with the affected cortical sites during enhanced detection of lower-intensity visual events paired with sounds. Coupling strength between visual and auditory thalamus with cortical regions, including STS, covaried parametrically with the psychophysical benefit for this specific multisensory context. Our results indicate that multisensory enhancement of detection sensitivity for low-contrast visual stimuli by co-occurring sounds reflects a brain network involving not only established multisensory STS and sensory-specific cortex but also visual and auditory thalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Signal Detection, Psychological / physiology
  • Thalamus / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*