From the act of exploring an environment to that of grasping a cup of tea, animals must put in register their motor acts with their surrounding space. In the motor domain, this is likely to be defined by a register of three-dimensional (3D) displacement vectors, whose recruitment allows motion in the direction of a target. One such spatially targeted action is seen in the head reorientation behavior of mice, yet the neural mechanisms underlying these 3D behaviors remain unknown. Here, by developing a head-mounted inertial sensor for studying 3D head rotations and combining it with electrophysiological recordings, we show that neurons in the mouse superior colliculus are either individually or conjunctively tuned to the three Eulerian components of head rotation. The average displacement vectors associated with motor-tuned colliculus neurons remain stable over time and are unaffected by changes in firing rate or the duration of spike trains. Finally, we show that the motor tuning of collicular neurons is largely independent from visual or landmark cues. By describing the 3D nature of motor tuning in the superior colliculus, we contribute to long-standing debate on the dimensionality of collicular motor decoding; furthermore, by providing an experimental paradigm for the study of the metric of motor tuning in mice, this study also paves the way to the genetic dissection of the circuits underlying spatially targeted motion.
Keywords: 3D; motor control; space encoding; superior colliculus.
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