Neural convergence and divergence in the mammalian cerebral cortex: from experimental neuroanatomy to functional neuroimaging

J Comp Neurol. 2013 Dec 15;521(18):4097-111. doi: 10.1002/cne.23408.


A development essential for understanding the neural basis of complex behavior and cognition is the description, during the last quarter of the twentieth century, of detailed patterns of neuronal circuitry in the mammalian cerebral cortex. This effort established that sensory pathways exhibit successive levels of convergence, from the early sensory cortices to sensory-specific and multisensory association cortices, culminating in maximally integrative regions. It was also established that this convergence is reciprocated by successive levels of divergence, from the maximally integrative areas all the way back to the early sensory cortices. This article first provides a brief historical review of these neuroanatomical findings, which were relevant to the study of brain and mind-behavior relationships and to the proposal of heuristic anatomofunctional frameworks. In a second part, the article reviews new evidence that has accumulated from studies of functional neuroimaging, employing both univariate and multivariate analyses, as well as electrophysiology, in humans and other mammals, that the integration of information across the auditory, visual, and somatosensory-motor modalities proceeds in a content-rich manner. Behaviorally and cognitively relevant information is extracted from and conserved across the different modalities, both in higher order association cortices and in early sensory cortices. Such stimulus-specific information is plausibly relayed along the neuroanatomical pathways alluded to above. The evidence reviewed here suggests the need for further in-depth exploration of the intricate connectivity of the mammalian cerebral cortex in experimental neuroanatomical studies.

Keywords: MVPA; Van Hoesen; convergence; cross-modal; divergence; fMRI; multisensory; multivariate; tract tracing.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology*
  • Neuroanatomy / history
  • Neuroimaging / methods*