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Barry Stein, PhD
How the Brain Develops the Ability to Integrate Information from Different Senses
Professor and Chairman, Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, and Professor of Neurology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
2 Riverside Circle, Roanoke, VA 24016
A remarkable feature of the brain is its ability to synthesize information from different senses to create a singular percept of the external world. This process of multisensory integration takes place at many loci, but has been best studied in the cat superior colliculus (SC), a midbrain structure involved in orientation/localization behavior. Yet its underlying principles appear to be species independent. SC neurons integrate information from various combinations of visual, auditory, and tactile inputs, a process that dramatically alters their responses and the behaviors that depend on them. The acquisition of multisensory integration capability and the crafting of its operational principles are processes that develop early in life and that depend heavily on at least two interrelated factors: a dialogue between SC neurons and their descending inputs from the association areas of the cerebral cortex, and experience with the statistics of cross-modal events. These factors help develop the neural circuitry underlying multisensory integration, and adapt its operational principles to the environment in which it will be used. They may also make it possible to modify these principles later in life if environmental circumstances change.