Topography of sound level representation in the FM sweep selective region of the pallid bat auditory cortex

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Sound level processing is a fundamental function of the auditory system. To determine how the cortex represents sound level, it is important to quantify how changes in level alter the spatiotemporal structure of cortical ensemble activity. This is particularly true for echolocating bats that have control over, and often rapidly adjust, call level to actively change echo level. To understand how cortical activity may change with sound level, here we mapped response rate and latency changes with sound level in the auditory cortex of the pallid bat. The pallid bat uses a 60-30 kHz downward frequency modulated (FM) sweep for echolocation. Neurons tuned to frequencies between 30 and 70 kHz in the auditory cortex are selective for the properties of FM sweeps used in echolocation forming the FM sweep selective region (FMSR). The FMSR is strongly selective for sound level between 30 and 50 dB SPL. Here we mapped the topography of level selectivity in the FMSR using downward FM sweeps and show that neurons with more monotonic rate level functions are located in caudomedial regions of the FMSR overlapping with high frequency (50–60 kHz) neurons. Non-monotonic neurons dominate the FMSR, and are distributed across the entire region, but there is no evidence for amplitopy. We also examined how first spike latency of FMSR neurons change with sound level. The majority of FMSR neurons exhibit paradoxical latency shift wherein the latency increases with sound level. Moreover, neurons with paradoxical latency shifts are more strongly level selective and are tuned to lower sound level than neurons in which latencies decrease with level. These data indicate a clustered arrangement of neurons according to monotonicity, with no strong evidence for finer scale topography, in the FMSR. The latency analysis suggests mechanisms for strong level selectivity that is based on relative timing of excitatory and inhibitory inputs. Taken together, these data suggest how the spatiotemporal spread of cortical activity may represent sound level.

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