The optic tectum (TeO), or superior colliculus, is a multisensory midbrain center that organizes spatially orienting responses to relevant stimuli. To define the stimulus with the highest priority at each moment, a network of reciprocal connections between the TeO and the isthmi promotes competition between concurrent tectal inputs. In the avian midbrain, the neurons mediating enhancement and suppression of tectal inputs are located in separate isthmic nuclei, facilitating the analysis of the neural processes that mediate competition. A specific subset of radial neurons in the intermediate tectal layers relay retinal inputs to the isthmi, but at present it is unclear whether separate neurons innervate individual nuclei or a single neural type sends a common input to several of them. In this study, we used in vitro neural tracing and cell-filling experiments in chickens to show that single neurons innervate, via axon collaterals, the three nuclei that comprise the isthmotectal network. This demonstrates that the input signals representing the strength of the incoming stimuli are simultaneously relayed to the mechanisms promoting both enhancement and suppression of the input signals. By performing in vivo recordings in anesthetized chicks, we also show that this common input generates synchrony between both antagonistic mechanisms, demonstrating that activity enhancement and suppression are closely coordinated. From a computational point of view, these results suggest that these tectal neurons constitute integrative nodes that combine inputs from different sources to drive in parallel several concurrent neural processes, each performing complementary functions within the network through different firing patterns and connectivity.
Keywords: isthmi; optic tectum; spatial attention; stimulus selection; vision.