Functional organization and dynamic activity in the superior colliculus of the echolocating bat,Eptesicus fuscus
Journal of Neuroscience
Sensory-guided behaviors require the transformation of sensory information into task-specific motor commands. Prior research on sensorimotor integration has emphasized visuomotor processes in the context of simplified orienting movements in controlled laboratory tasks rather than an animal's more complete, natural behavioral repertoire. Here, we conducted a series of neural recording experiments in the midbrain superior colliculus (SC) of echolocating bats engaged in a sonar target-tracking
... that invoked dynamic active sensing behaviors. We hypothesized that SC activity in freely behaving animals would reveal dynamic shifts in neural firing patterns within and across sensory, sensorimotor, and premotor layers. We recorded neural activity in the SC of freely echolocating bats (three females and one male) and replicated the general trends reported in other species with sensory responses in the dorsal divisions and premotor activity in ventral divisions of the SC. However, within this coarse functional organization, we discovered that sensory and motor neurons are comingled within layers throughout the volume of the bat SC. In addition, as the bat increased pulse rate adaptively to increase resolution of the target location with closing distance, the activity of sensory and vocal premotor neurons changed such that auditory response times decreased, and vocal premotor lead times shortened. This finding demonstrates that SC activity can be modified dynamically in concert with adaptive behaviors and suggests that an integrated functional organization within SC laminae supports rapid and local integration of sensory and motor signals for natural, adaptive behaviors. Natural sensory-guided behaviors involve the rapid integration of information from the environment to direct flexible motor actions. The vast majority of research on sensorimotor integration has used artificial stimuli and simplified behaviors, leaving open questions about nervous system function in the context of natural tasks. Our work investigated mechanisms of dynamic sensorimotor feedback control by analyzing patterns of neural activity in the midbrain superior colliculus (SC) of an echolocating bat tracking and intercepting moving prey. Recordings revealed that sensory and motor neurons comingle within laminae of the SC to support rapid sensorimotor integration. Further, we discovered that neural activity in the bat SC changes with dynamic adaptations in the animal's echolocation behavior.