Monday, July 23, 2007

Imperceptible cross modal stimuli produce percepts.

A brief review by Chapman notes that Ramos-Estebanez et al. have done an intriguing experiment involving visuotactile interactions, asking whether subthreshold sensory stimulation can sum across modalities to produce a reportable percept. Some clips from the review and the original article:
The study combined transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to V1 with peripheral electrical stimulation (PES) to the left and right index fingers. For many subjects, TMS at sufficient magnitude directly over V1 evokes phosphenes, spots or "sparks" of light in the visual field that do not correlate with any external stimulus.

Figure. Test conditions used in the experiment in conjunction to TMS delivered to the occipital cortex. PES was delivered in conjunction with occipital TMS at varying ISIs (40, 60, 80, and 100 ms) to either the right or left hand and with the hands in the uncrossed or crossed position.

TMS and PES levels were set at 80% of the threshold stimulation intensity. Subthreshold TMS to left V1 produced phosphene perceptions in ~10% of trials. When subthreshold PES to the left hand was added to TMS, there was no significant change in phosphene perception. However, when PES to the right hand was combined with TMS, a dramatic effect emerged: subjects suddenly reported phosphene perceptions up to 50% of trials. This result suggests that the two imperceptible stimuli combine across modalities to produce a salient percept. At no point did the subjects experience reportable sensations in either hand. The striking effect of stimulation to the right hand persisted whether the hands were crossed or uncrossed. This is what one might expect from "hardwired" connections between the right side of the body and unimodal areas representing the right visual hemifield.

These experiments supplement previous work by showing that even subthreshold sensory stimuli can combine across modalities and that the time course of this interaction occurs within an early, specific temporal range. Many questions remain, because the physiological and anatomical underpinnings of early crossmodal interactions are still being uncovered. However, as our understanding of crossmodal interactions evolves, studies such as these may gradually reshape our current concept of brain organization.

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