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Prog Neurobiol. 1999 Oct;59(2):129-59.

The synaptic pharmacology underlying sensory processing in the superior colliculus.

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Department of Visual Science, Institute of Ophthalmology, University College, London, UK.


The superior colliculus (SC) is one of the most ancient regions of the vertebrate central sensory system. In this hub afferents from several sensory pathways converge, and an extensive range of neural circuits enable primary sensory processing, multi-sensory integration and the generation of motor commands for orientation behaviours. The SC has a laminar structure and is usually considered in two parts; the superficial visual layers and the deep multi-modal/motor layers. Neurones in the superficial layers integrate visual information from the retina, cortex and other sources, while the deep layers draw together data from many cortical and sub-cortical sensory areas, including the superficial layers, to generate motor commands. Functional studies in anaesthetized subjects and in slice preparations have used pharmacological tools to probe some of the SC's interacting circuits. The studies reviewed here reveal important roles for ionotropic glutamate receptors in the mediation of sensory inputs to the SC and in transmission between the superficial and deep layers. N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors appear to have special responsibility for the temporal matching of retinal and cortical activity in the superficial layers and for the integration of multiple sensory data-streams in the deep layers. Sensory responses are shaped by intrinsic inhibitory mechanisms mediated by GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptors and influenced by nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. These sensory and motor-command activities of SC neurones are modulated by levels of arousal through extrinsic connections containing GABA, serotonin and other transmitters. It is possible to naturally stimulate many of the SC's sensory and non-sensory inputs either independently or simultaneously and this brain area is an ideal location in which to study: (a) interactions between inputs from the same sensory system; (b) the integration of inputs from several sensory systems; and

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