Approaching or looming signals are often related to extremely relevant environmental events (e.g. threats or collisions) making these signals critical for survival. However, the neural network underlying multisensory looming processing is not yet fully understood. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we identified the neural correlates of audiovisual looming processing in humans: audiovisual looming (vs. receding) signals enhance fMRI-responses in low-level visual and auditory areas plus multisensory cortex (superior temporal sulcus; plus parietal and frontal structures). When characterizing the fMRI-response profiles for multisensory looming stimuli, we found significant enhancements relative to the mean and maximum of unisensory responses in looming-sensitive visual and auditory cortex plus STS. Superadditive enhancements were observed in visual cortex. Subject-specific region-of-interest analyses further revealed superadditive response profiles within all sensory-specific looming-sensitive structures plus bilateral STS for audiovisual looming vs. summed unisensory looming conditions. Finally, we observed enhanced connectivity of bilateral STS with low-level visual areas in the context of looming processing. This enhanced coupling of STS with unisensory regions might potentially serve to enhance the salience of unisensory stimulus features and is accompanied by superadditive fMRI-responses. We suggest that this preference in neural signaling for looming stimuli effectively informs animals to avoid potential threats or collisions.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.