Circuits for Action and Cognition: A View from the Superior Colliculus

Annu Rev Vis Sci. 2017 Sep 15:3:197-226. doi: 10.1146/annurev-vision-102016-061234. Epub 2017 Jun 15.


The superior colliculus is one of the most well-studied structures in the brain, and with each new report, its proposed role in behavior seems to increase in complexity. Forty years of evidence show that the colliculus is critical for reorienting an organism toward objects of interest. In monkeys, this involves saccadic eye movements. Recent work in the monkey colliculus and in the homologous optic tectum of the bird extends our understanding of the role of the colliculus in higher mental functions, such as attention and decision making. In this review, we highlight some of these recent results, as well as those capitalizing on circuit-based methodologies using transgenic mice models, to understand the contribution of the colliculus to attention and decision making. The wealth of information we have about the colliculus, together with new tools, provides a unique opportunity to obtain a detailed accounting of the neurons, circuits, and computations that underlie complex behavior.

Keywords: attention; decision making; movement; normalization; orienting; population coding; saccades; vision.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Saccades / physiology
  • Superior Colliculi / anatomy & histology
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways* / anatomy & histology
  • Visual Pathways* / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*