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J Neurosci. 1997 Apr 1;17(7):2429-44.

Development of multisensory neurons and multisensory integration in cat superior colliculus.

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Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27157, USA.


The development of multisensory neurons and multisensory integration was examined in the deep layers of the superior colliculus of kittens ranging in age from 3 to 135 d postnatal (dpn). Despite the high proportion of multisensory neurons in adult animals, no such neurons were found during the first 10 d of postnatal life. Rather, all sensory-responsive neurons were unimodal. The first multisensory neurons (somatosensory-auditory) were found at 12 dpn, and visually responsive multisensory neurons were not found until 20 dpn. Early multisensory neurons responded weakly to sensory stimuli, had long latencies, large receptive fields, and poorly developed response selectivities. Most surprising, however, was their inability to integrate combinations of sensory cues to produce significant response enhancement (or depression), a characteristic feature of the adult. Responses to combinations of sensory cues differed little from responses to their modality-specific components. At 28 dpn an abrupt physiological change was noted. Some multisensory neurons now integrated combinations of cross-modality cues and exhibited significant response enhancements when these cues were spatially coincident and response depressions when the cues were spatially disparate. During the next 2 months the incidence of multisensory neurons, and the proportion of these neurons capable of adult-like multisensory integration, gradually increased. Once multisensory integration appeared in a given neuron, its properties changed little with development. Even the youngest integrating neurons showed superadditive enhancements and spatial characteristics of multisensory integration that were indistinguishable from the adult. Nevertheless, neonatal and adult multisensory neurons differed in the manner in which they integrated temporally asynchronous stimuli, a distribution that may reflect the very different behavioral requirements at different ages. The possible maturational role of corticotectal projections in the abrupt gating of multisensory integration is discussed.

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