What would be an example of a multisensory brain area, where multiple senses (e.g. smell and taste) are combined to decode the corresponding stimuli from more than one sensory organ?

I was thinking of association areas, but it doesn't really seem plausible that they would primarily be multisensory areas.


2 Answers 2


Much of the answer will depend on how you define multisensory. Are you most interested in areas of the brain where multiple primary sensory streams converge together to form secondary representations, or are you interested in areas of the brain that simply have access to that kind of information?

I will throw in for consideration one of my favorite multisensory brain areas: the insula. It is the primary sensory cortex for gustatory and interoceptive sensory information (Craig et al., 2000) and seems to play an important role in temporal coincidence of crossmodal stimuli (Calvert, 2001). This includes tactile-auditory association (Renier et al., 2009), tactile-visual association (Gentile et al., 2010), auditory-visual association (Bushara et al., 2001) to name a few.

With regard to the example in your question, De Araujo et al. (2003) found that the anterior orbitofrontal cortex was one of the few regions that didn't respond to taste, didn't respond to smell, but did respond when taste and smell were simultaneously presented. Orbitofrontal cortex might be my second favorite multisensory brain area...

  • Bushara KO, Grafman J, Hallett M. (2001) Neural Correlates of Auditory–Visual Stimulus Onset Asynchrony Detection. Journal of Neuroscience, 21(1), 300-304.
  • Calvert GA. (2001) Crossmodal Processing in the Human Brain: Insights from Functional Neuroimaging Studies. Cerebral Cortex, 11(12), 1110-1123.
  • Craig AD, Chen K, Bandy D, and Reiman EM. (2000) Thermosensory activation of insular cortex. Nature Neuroscience, 3(2), 184-190.
  • De Araujo IET, Rolls ET, Kringlebach ML, McGlone F, and Phillips N. (2009) Taste-olfactory convergence, and the representation of the pleasantness of flavour, in the human brain. European Journal of Neuroscience, 18(7), 2059-2068.
  • Gentile G, Petkova VI, and Ehrsson HH. (2010) Integration of Visual and Tactile Signals From the Hand in the Human Brain: An fMRI Study. Journal of Neurophysiology, 105(2), 910-922.
  • Renier LA, Anurova I, De Volder AG, Carlson S, VanMeter J, Rauschecker JP. (2009) Multisensory Integration of Sounds and Vibrotactile Stimuli in Processing Streams for “What” and “Where”. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(35), 10950-10960.
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for lending your expertise to the site! Hope to hear more from you. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, is there any paper available that would describe how are information decoded (which stimuli are processed in the neighbouring areas of insula - is there any piece of evidence for similar maps as retinotopic maps). $\endgroup$
    – random guy
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 11:12
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    $\begingroup$ There is some evidence for a somatotopic layout of primary interoceptive information in the posterior insula. See Baumgärtner, Iannetti, Zambreanu, Stoeter, Treede, and Tracey (2010) for more information. If you really want to dig in to the architecture of the insula you might check out Gallay, Gallay, Jeanmonod, Rouiller, and Morel (2012), which goes over its anatomy and connectivity in the macaque. Clascá, Llamas and Reinoso-Suárez (2000) also examine insular connectivity in the cat. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 17:16

Association areas are exactly what you are looking for, actually.

For example, the ventral intraparietal (VIP) cortex, located in the inferior parietal lobe (along the right border of the yellow area in the image below), just on the border of the occipital lobe, integrates somatosensory (tactile) and visual information.

enter image description here

Image via Wikipedia

For an extensive look at the single electrode studies which illustrated this convergence, see the following article:

Duhamel, J. R., Colby, C. L., & Goldberg, M. E. (1998). Ventral intraparietal area of the macaque: congruent visual and somatic response properties. Journal of Neurophysiology, 79(1), 126-136. FREE PDF

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    $\begingroup$ I'm digging into where exactly the gustatory/olfactory information converges, so I will try to add to the answer. Much of taste is processed initially through the solitary tract in the brainstem, and the projection goes up through the brainstem into the thalamus, but the olfactory information is merely relayed through the thalamus and doesn't synapse there. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 5:23
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    $\begingroup$ The olfactory information eventually converges on the piriform cortex, but I didn't find anything that lead me to believe that the gustatory information comes to rest there. Information from both senses does converge on the amygdala, but I'm not sure whether it is integrated there. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 5:33

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