Barn Owl's Auditory Space Map Activity Matching Conditions for a Population Vector Readout to Drive Adaptive Sound-Localizing Behavior

Roland Ferger, Keanu Shadron, Brian J. Fischer, José L. Peña

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Space-specific neurons in the owl's midbrain form a neural map of auditory space, which supports sound-orienting behavior. Previous work proposed that a population vector (PV) readout of this map, implementing statistical inference, predicts the owl's sound localization behavior. This model also predicts the frontal localization bias normally observed and how sound-localizing behavior changes when the signal-to-noise ratio varies, based on the spread of activity across the map. However, the actual distribution of population activity and whether this pattern is consistent with premises of the PV readout model on a trial-by-trial basis remains unknown. To answer these questions, we investigated whether the population response profile across the midbrain map in the optic tectum of the barn owl matches these predictions using in vivo multielectrode array recordings. We found that response profiles of recorded subpopulations are sufficient for estimating the stimulus interaural time difference using responses from single trials. Furthermore, this decoder matches the expected differences in trial-by-trial variability and frontal bias between stimulus conditions of low and high signal-to-noise ratio. These results support the hypothesis that a PV readout of the midbrain map can mediate statistical inference in sound-localizing behavior of barn owls.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT While the tuning of single neurons in the owl's midbrain map of auditory space has been considered predictive of the highly specialized sound-localizing behavior of this species, response properties across the population remain largely unknown. For the first time, this study analyzed the spread of population responses across the map using multielectrode recordings and how it changes with signal-to-noise ratio. The observed responses support the hypothesis concerning the ability of a population vector readout to predict biases in orienting behaviors and mediate uncertainty-dependent behavioral commands. The results are of significance for understanding potential mechanisms for the implementation of optimal behavioral commands across species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10305-10315
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 15 2021


  • barn owl
  • hearing
  • population readout
  • population vector
  • probability coding
  • sound localization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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