Parallel Processing

One major question regarding the function of the inferior colliculus is the extent to which information from the different binaural and monaural pathways is transformed as opposed to relayed in an unchanged state. Both parallel processing and convergence of inputs from multiple sources appear to take place, and this conclusion is supported by both anatomical and physiological data. Parallel processing in the colliculus is supported by the continued presence of neurons with monaural responses and responses that mimic those in the medial and lateral superior olive. If all inputs were to converge onto the single frequency map in the colliculus, that preservation of response types would not occur. This principle of separation of binaural time and intensity pathways was established in avian systems (e.g., barn owl), and similar mechanisms are surely utilized by the human midbrain.

Anatomical evidence in mammals confirms that the inputs from different brain stem auditory centers do not all converge uniformly on the fibrodendritic laminae of the inferior colliculus. Instead, the laminae are probably organized into functional zones that each contain a unique set or group of laminar input axons that terminate together, in register with each other. Some inputs may terminate in one part of a lamina, whereas other inputs may terminate in another part or in a flanking lamina. The separation of parts of laminae into functional zones, called synaptic domains, may allow the basic response properties generated in the superior olive to remain intact.

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