Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Neural information combination problems are ubiquitous in cognitive neuroscience. Two important disciplines, although conceptually similar, take radically different approaches to these problems. Sensory binding theory is largely grounded in synchronization of neurons responding to different aspects of a stimulus, resulting in a coherent percept. Sensory integration focuses more on the influences of the senses on each other and is largely grounded in the study of neurons that respond to more than one sense. It would be desirable to bridge these disciplines, so that insights gleaned from either could be harnessed by the other. To link these two fields, we used a binding-like oscillatory synchronization mechanism to simulate neurons in rattlesnake that are driven by one sense but modulated by another. Mutual excitatory coupling produces synchronized trains of action potentials with enhanced firing rates. The same neural synchronization mechanism models the behavior of a population of cells in cat visual cortex that are modulated by auditory activation. The coupling strength of the synchronizing neurons is crucial to the outcome; a criterion of strong coupling (kept weak enough to avoid seriously distorting action potential amplitude) results in intensity-dependent sensory enhancement—the principle of inverse effectiveness—a key property of sensory integration.