Representation of three-dimensional space in the auditory cortex of the echolocating bat P. discolor

PLoS One. 2017 Aug 16;12(8):e0182461. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182461. eCollection 2017.


The auditory cortex is an essential center for sound localization. In echolocating bats, combination sensitive neurons tuned to specific delays between call emission and echo perception represent target distance. In many bats, these neurons are organized as a chronotopically organized map of echo delay. However, it is still unclear to what extend these neurons can process directional information and thereby form a three-dimensional representation of space. We investigated the representation of three-dimensional space in the auditory cortex of Phyllostomus discolor. Specifically, we hypothesized that combination sensitive neurons encoding target distance in the AC can also process directional information. We used typical echolocation pulses of P. discolor combined with simulated echoes from different positions in virtual 3D-space and measured the evoked neuronal responses in the AC of the anesthetized bats. Our results demonstrate that combination sensitive neurons in the AC responded selectively to specific positions in 3-D space. While these neurons were sharply tuned to echo delay and formed a precise target distance map, the neurons' specificity in azimuth and elevation depended on the presented sound pressure level. Our data further reveal a topographic distribution of best elevation of the combination sensitive neurons along the rostro-caudal axis i.e., neurons in the rostral part of the target distance map representing short delays prefer elevations below the horizon. Due to their spatial directionality and selectivity to specific echo delays representing target distance, combination sensitive cortical neurons are suited to encode three-dimensional spatial information.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Echolocation*
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology

Grant support

This work was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Technische Universität München within the funding programme Open Access Publishing. The study was funded by a grant of DFG (FI 1546/4) to U.F. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.