Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Merging information derived from different sensory channels allows the brain to amplify minimal signals to reduce their ambiguity, thereby improving the ability of orienting to, detecting, and identifying environmental events. Although multisensory interactions have been mostly ascribed to the activity of higher-order heteromodal areas, multisensory convergence may arise even in primary sensory-specific areas located very early along the cortical processing stream. In three experiments, we investigated early multisensory interactions in lower-level visual areas, by using a novel approach, based on the coupling of behavioral stimulation with two noninvasive brain stimulation techniques, namely, TMS and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). First, we showed that redundant multisensory stimuli can increase visual cortical excitability, as measured by means of phosphene induction by occipital TMS; such physiological enhancement is followed by a behavioral facilitation through the amplification of signal intensity in sensory-specific visual areas. The more sensory inputs are combined (i.e., trimodal vs. bimodal stimuli), the greater are the benefits on phosphene perception. Second, neuroelectrical activity changes induced by tDCS in the temporal and in the parietal cortices, but not in the occipital cortex, can further boost the multisensory enhancement of visual cortical excitability, by increasing the auditory and tactile inputs from temporal and parietal regions, respectively, to lower-level visual areas.