Do early sensory cortices integrate cross-modal information?
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- Kayser, C. & Logothetis, N.K. Brain Struct Funct (2007) 212: 121. doi:10.1007/s00429-007-0154-0
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Our different senses provide complementary evidence about the environment and their interaction often aids behavioral performance or alters the quality of the sensory percept. A traditional view defers the merging of sensory information to higher association cortices, and posits that a large part of the brain can be reduced into a collection of unisensory systems that can be studied in isolation. Recent studies, however, challenge this view and suggest that cross-modal interactions can already occur in areas hitherto regarded as unisensory. We review results from functional imaging and electrophysiology exemplifying cross-modal interactions that occur early during the evoked response, and at the earliest stages of sensory cortical processing. Although anatomical studies revealed several potential origins of these cross-modal influences, there is yet no clear relation between particular functional observations and specific anatomical connections. In addition, our view on sensory integration at the neuronal level is coined by many studies on subcortical model systems of sensory integration; yet, the patterns of cross-modal interaction in cortex deviate from these model systems in several ways. Consequently, future studies on cortical sensory integration need to leave the descriptive level and need to incorporate cross-modal influences into models of the organization of sensory processing. Only then will we be able to determine whether early cross-modal interactions truly merit the label sensory integration, and how they increase a sensory system’s ability to scrutinize its environment and finally aid behavior.