Enhanced representation of natural sound sequences in the ventral auditory midbrain

Brain Struct Funct. 2021 Jan;226(1):207-223. doi: 10.1007/s00429-020-02188-2. Epub 2020 Dec 14.


The auditory midbrain (inferior colliculus, IC) plays an important role in sound processing, acting as hub for acoustic information extraction and for the implementation of fast audio-motor behaviors. IC neurons are topographically organized according to their sound frequency preference: dorsal IC regions encode low frequencies while ventral areas respond best to high frequencies, a type of sensory map defined as tonotopy. Tonotopic maps have been studied extensively using artificial stimuli (pure tones) but our knowledge of how these maps represent information about sequences of natural, spectro-temporally rich sounds is sparse. We studied this question by conducting simultaneous extracellular recordings across IC depths in awake bats (Carollia perspicillata) that listened to sequences of natural communication and echolocation sounds. The hypothesis was that information about these two types of sound streams is represented at different IC depths since they exhibit large differences in spectral composition, i.e., echolocation covers the high-frequency portion of the bat soundscape (> 45 kHz), while communication sounds are broadband and carry most power at low frequencies (20-25 kHz). Our results showed that mutual information between neuronal responses and acoustic stimuli, as well as response redundancy in pairs of neurons recorded simultaneously, increase exponentially with IC depth. The latter occurs regardless of the sound type presented to the bats (echolocation or communication). Taken together, our results indicate the existence of mutual information and redundancy maps at the midbrain level whose response cannot be predicted based on the frequency composition of natural sounds and classic neuronal tuning curves.

Keywords: Auditory midbrain; Brain-stimulus synchrony; Inferior colliculus; Mutual information; Natural sounds.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Echolocation / physiology*
  • Inferior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology