A new study suggests that the superior colliculus, a small pea-sized region in the human brain, plays a more important role than previously thought. The study says that the superior colliculus has served its duty for a long time and has been preserved over millions of years of evolution. The research has been published in eLife.
Scientists at the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience set out to further explore how animals, including humans, can distinguish objects in their environment.
This ability has long been enigmatic: although the involvement of the visual cortex is recognized, in certain animals this region of the brain is underdeveloped or absent.
From previous studies, it seemed that the superior colliculus might also play a role. In addition to the visual cortex, it receives direct sensory information from the eyes. To delve deeper into its function, the researchers conducted experiments on mice.
“In this study we deactivated the superior colliculus using optogenetics to see what effect it would have,” says neuroscientist Alexander Heimel of the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience.
New research shows that the superior colliculus, along with the visual cortex, plays a critical role in how mice perceive their immediate surroundings. Deactivating this small brain region significantly affected their ability to detect objects.
When the mice detected objects, the researchers saw their brains light up. Eye tracking and brain recordings revealed greater activity in the superior colliculus, regardless of task complexity.
“Our measurements also showed that information about the visual task is present in the superior colliculus and that this information is less present at the moment when a mouse makes an error,” says Heimel.
The research said that the mile brain and the human brain are quite similar in key aspects, including the parallel pathway that is the visual cortex and superior colliculus.
“Our research shows that the superior colliculus could be responsible for this and therefore could be doing more than we thought,” says Heimel.