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J Neurosci. 1997 Mar 1;17(5):1720-33.

Spatially selective auditory responses in the superior colliculus of the echolocating bat.

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  • 1Program in Neuroscience, and Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


When a bat approaches a target, it continuously modifies its echolocation sounds and relies on incoming echo information to shape the characteristics of its subsequent sonar cries. In addition, acoustic information about the azimuth and elevation of a sonar target elicits orienting movements of the head and pinnae toward the sound source. This requires a common sensorimotor interface, where echo information is used to guide motor behaviors. Using single-unit neurophysiological methods and free-field auditory stimulation, we present data on biologically relevant specializations in the superior colliculus (SC) of the bat for orientation by sonar. In the bat's SC, two classes of spatially tuned neurons are distinguished by their sensitivity to echoes. One population shows facilitated, delay-tuned responses to pairs of sounds, simulating sonar emissions and echoes. Delay tuning, related to encoding target range, may play a role in guiding motor responses in echolocation, because the bat adjusts its emissions with changes in target distance. The delay-facilitated response depends on the direction of stimulation and on the temporal relationship between the simulated emission and echo in the sound pair, suggesting that this class of neurons represents the location of a target in three dimensions. A second population encodes the target in two dimensions, azimuth and elevation, and does not show a facilitated response to echoes delivered from any locus. Encoding of azimuth and elevation may be important for directing head aim, and this class may function in transforming auditory spatial information into signals used to guide acoustic orientation.

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