Midbrain auditory selectivity to natural sounds

Melville J. Wohlgemuth, Cynthia F. Moss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


This study investigated auditory stimulus selectivity in the midbrain superior colliculus (SC) of the echolocating bat, an animal that relies on hearing to guide its orienting behaviors. Multichannel, single-unit recordings were taken across laminae of the midbrain SC of the awake, passively listening big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus. Species-specific frequency-modulated (FM) echolocation sound sequences with dynamic spectrotemporal features served as acoustic stimuli along with artificial sound sequences matched in bandwidth, amplitude, and duration but differing in spectrotemporal structure. Neurons in dorsal sensory regions of the bat SC responded selectively to elements within the FM sound sequences, whereas neurons in ventral sensorimotor regions showed broad response profiles to natural and artificial stimuli. Moreover, a generalized linear model (GLM) constructed on responses in the dorsal SC to artificial linear FM stimuli failed to predict responses to natural sounds and vice versa, but the GLM produced accurate response predictions in ventral SC neurons. This result suggests that auditory selectivity in the dorsal extent of the bat SC arises through nonlinear mechanisms, which extract species-specific sensory information. Importantly, auditory selectivity appeared only in responses to stimuli containing the natural statistics of acoustic signals used by the bat for spatial orientation - sonar vocalizations - offering support for the hypothesis that sensory selectivity enables rapid species-specific orienting behaviors. The results of this study are the first, to our knowledge, to show auditory spectrotemporal selectivity to natural stimuli in SC neurons and serve to inform a more general understanding of mechanisms guiding sensory selectivity for natural, goal-directed orienting behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2508-2513
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number9
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Auditory grasp
  • Neuroethology
  • Stimulus selection
  • Superior colliculus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Midbrain auditory selectivity to natural sounds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this