Plasticity of Visual Pathways and Function in the Developing Brain: Is the Pulvinar a Crucial Player?, Front Syst Neurosci, (11), 3.

The pulvinar is the largest of the thalamic nuclei in the primates, including humans. In the primates, two of the three major subdivisions, the lateral and inferior pulvinar, are heavily interconnected with a significant proportion of the visual association cortex. However, while we now have a better understanding of the bidirectional connectivity of these pulvinar subdivisions, its functions remain somewhat of an enigma. Over the past few years, researchers have started to tackle this problem by addressing it from the angle of development and visual cortical lesions. In this review, we will draw together literature from the realms of studies in nonhuman primates and humans that have informed much of the current understanding. This literature has been responsible for changing many long-held opinions on the development of the visual cortex and how the pulvinar interacts dynamically with cortices during early life to ensure rapid development and functional capacity Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest involvement of the pulvinar following lesions of the primary visual cortex (V1) and geniculostriate pathway in early life which have far better functional outcomes than identical lesions obtained in adulthood. Shedding new light on the pulvinar and its role following lesions of the visual brain has implications for our understanding of visual brain disorders and the potential for recovery.

Visual information from observing grasping movement in allocentric and egocentric perspectives: development in typical children, Exp Brain Res.

Development of the motor system lags behind that of the visual system and might delay some visual properties more closely linked to action. We measured the developmental trajectory of the discrimination of object size from observation of the biological motion of a grasping action in egocentric and allocentric viewpoints (observing action of others or self), in children and adolescents from 5 to 18 years of age. Children of 5-7 years of age performed the task at chance, indicating a delayed ability to understand the goal of the action. We found a progressive improvement in the ability of discrimination from 9 to 18 years, which parallels the development of fine motor control. Only after 9 years of age did we observe an advantage for the egocentric view, as previously reported for adults. Given that visual and haptic sensitivity of size discrimination, as well as biological motion, are mature in early adolescence, we interpret our results as reflecting immaturity of the influence of the motor system on visual perception.

Temporally Evolving Gain Mechanisms of Attention in Macaque Area V4, J Neurophysiol, jn 00522 02016.

Cognitive attention and perceptual saliency jointly govern our interaction with the environment. Yet, we still lack a universally accepted account of the interplay between attention and luminance contrast – a fundamental dimension of saliency. We measured the attentional modulation of V4 neurons’ Contrast Response Functions (CRFs) in awake, behaving macaque monkeys and applied a new approach which emphasizes the temporal dynamics of cell responses. We found that attention modulates CRFs via different gain mechanisms during subsequent epochs of visually driven activity: an early contrast-gain – strongly dependent on pre-stimulus activity changes (baseline shift), a time-limited stimulus-dependent multiplicative modulation, reaching its maximal expression around 150 ms after stimulus onset, and a late resurgence of contrast-gain modulation. Attention produced comparable time-dependent attentional gain changes on cells heterogeneously coding contrast, supporting the notion that the same circuits mediate attention mechanisms in V4 regardless of the form of contrast selectivity expressed by the given neuron. Surprisingly, attention was also sometimes capable of inducing radical transformations in the shape of CRFs. These findings offer important insights into the mechanisms that underlie contrast coding and attention in primate visual cortex and a new perspective on their interplay, one in which time becomes a fundamental factor.

Autism is associated with reduced ability to interpret grasping actions of others, Sci Rep, 1 (7), 12687.

We investigated the ability of children with ASD to discriminate a small cylinder from a large cube by observing a point-light movie of an actor grasping the object, either from an allocentric or egocentric viewpoint (observing action of others or self). Compared with typically developing controls, high functioning autistic children showed a strong selective impairment in this task, but only with the allocentric viewpoint, where thresholds were twice as high: egocentric thresholds were similar to age- and ability-matched controls. The magnitude of the impairment correlated strongly with the degree of symptomology (R2 = 0.5). The results suggest that children with ASD might be impaired in their ability to predict and infer the consequences of others’ movements, which could be related to the social-communicative deficits often reported in autism.

Spatial localization of sound elicits early responses from occipital visual cortex in humans, Sci Rep, 1 (7), 10415.

Much evidence points to an interaction between vision and audition at early cortical sites. However, the functional role of these interactions is not yet understood. Here we show an early response of the occipital cortex to sound that it is strongly linked to the spatial localization task performed by the observer. The early occipital response to a sound, usually absent, increased by more than 10-fold when presented during a space localization task, but not during a time localization task. The response amplification was not only specific to the task, but surprisingly also to the position of the stimulus in the two hemifields. We suggest that early occipital processing of sound is linked to the construction of an audio spatial map that may utilize the visual map of the occipital cortex.

Auditory Sensitivity and Decision Criteria Oscillate at Different Frequencies Separately for the Two Ears, Current Biology,

Many behavioral measures of visual perception fluctuate continually in a rhythmic manner, reflecting the influence of endogenous brain oscillations, particularly theta (~4–7 Hz) and alpha (~8–12 Hz) rhythms. However, it is unclear whether these oscillations are unique to vision or whether auditory performance also oscillates. Several studies report no oscillatory modulation in audition, while those with positive findings suffer from confounds relating to neural entrainment. Here, we used a bilateral pitch-identification task to investigate rhythmic fluctuations in auditory performance separately for the two ears and applied signal detection theory (SDT) to test for oscillations of both sensitivity and criterion (changes in decision boundary). Using uncorrelated dichotic white noise to induce a phase reset of oscillations, we demonstrate that, as with vision, both auditory sensitivity and criterion showed strong oscillations over time, at different frequencies: ~6 Hz (theta range) for sensitivity and ~8 Hz (low alpha range) for criterion, implying distinct underlying sampling mechanisms. The modulation in sensitivity in left and right ears was in antiphase, suggestive of attention-like mechanisms sampling alternatively from the two ears.