Don’t Underestimate The Pea! Tiny Brain Area May Be More Important Than Previously Thought: Study

A new study suggests that the superior colliculus, a small pea-sized region in the human brain plays a more significant role than previously thought. The study says that superior colliculus has been doing its duty for a long time and preserved through millions of years of evolution. The research has been published in eLife

Scientists from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience aimed to further explore how animals, including humans, can distinguish objects from their surroundings.

This capability has long been enigmatic: while the involvement of the visual cortex is recognized, in certain animals, this brain region is either underdeveloped or absent.

Drawing from prior studies, it appeared that the superior colliculus might play a role as well. Alongside the visual cortex, it receives direct sensory input from the eyes. To delve deeper into its function, the researchers conducted experiments in mice.

“In this study, we switched off the superior colliculus using optogenetics to see what effect that would have,” says neuroscientist Alexander Heimel from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience.

New research shows the superior colliculus, along with the visual cortex, plays a critical role in how mice perceive their immediate surroundings. Disabling this tiny brain region significantly impaired their ability to detect objects.

As the mice spotted objects, researchers saw their brains light up! Eye tracking and brain recordings revealed heightened 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 the moment a mouse makes a mistake,” says Heimel.

The research said that the mile brain and human brains are quite similar in key aspects- including the parallel pathway that is the visual cortex and the superior colliculus. 

“Our research shows that the superior colliculus might be responsible for this and may therefore be doing more than we thought,” says Heimel.


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