Exploring the superior colliculus in vitro.
The superior colliculus plays an important role in the translation of sensory signals that encode the location of objects in space into motor signals that encode vectors of the shifts in gaze direction called saccades. Since the late 1990s, our two laboratories have been applying whole cell patch-clamp techniques to in vitro slice preparations of rodent superior colliculus to analyze the structure and function of its circuitry at the cellular level. This review describes the results of these experiments and discusses their contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms responsible for sensorimotor integration in the superior colliculus. The experiments analyze vertical interactions between its superficial visuosensory and intermediate premotor layers and propose how they might contribute to express saccades and to saccadic suppression. They also compare and contrast the circuitry within each of these layers and propose how this circuitry might contribute to the selection of the targets for saccades and to the build-up of the premotor commands that precede saccades. Experiments also explore in vitro the roles of extrinsic inputs to the superior colliculus, including cholinergic inputs from the parabigeminal and parabrachial nuclei and GABAergic inputs from the substantia nigra pars reticulata, in modulating the activity of the collicular circuitry. The results extend and clarify our understanding of the multiple roles the superior colliculus plays in sensorimotor integration.
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