Functional segregation of monaural and binaural selectivity in the pallid bat auditory cortex

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Different fields of the auditory cortex can be distinguished by the extent and level tolerance of spatial selectivity. The mechanisms underlying the range of spatial tuning properties observed across cortical fields are unclear. Here, this issue was addressed in the pallid bat because its auditory cortex contains two segregated regions of response selectivity that serve two different behaviors: echolocation for obstacle avoidance and localization of prey-generated noise. This provides the unique opportunity to examine mechanisms of spatial properties in two functionally distinct regions. Previous studies have shown that spatial selectivity of neurons in the region selective for noise (noise-selective region, NSR) is level tolerant and shaped by interaural level difference (ILD) selectivity. In contrast, spatial selectivity of neurons in the echolocation region (‘FM sweep-selective region’ or FMSR) is strongly level dependent with many neurons responding to multiple distinct spatial locations for louder sounds. To determine the mechanisms underlying such level dependence, frequency, azimuth, rate-level responses and ILD selectivity were measured from the same FMSR neurons. The majority (˜75%) of FMSR neurons were monaural (ILD insensitive). Azimuth tuning curves expanded or split into multiple peaks with increasing sound level in a manner that was predicted by the rate-level response of neurons. These data suggest that azimuth selectivity of FMSR neurons depends more on monaural ear directionality and rate-level responses. The pallid bat cortex utilizes segregated monaural and binaural regions to process echoes and prey-generated noise. Together the pallid bat FMSR/NSR data provide mechanistic explanations for a broad range of spatial tuning properties seen across species.

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