Emergence of an adaptive command for orienting behavior in premotor brainstem neurons of barn owls

Fanny Cazettes, Brian J. Fischer, Michael V. Beckert, Jose L. Pena

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The midbrain map of auditory space commands sound-orienting responses in barn owls. Owls precisely localize sounds in frontal space but underestimate the direction of peripheral sound sources. This bias for central locations was proposed to be adaptive to the decreased reliability in the periphery of sensory cues used for sound localization by the owl. Understanding the neural pathway supporting this biased behavior provides a means to address how adaptive motor commands are implemented by neurons. Here we find that the sensory input for sound direction is weighted by its reliability in premotor neurons of the owl’s midbrain tegmentum such that the mean population firing rate approximates the head-orienting behavior. We provide evidence that this coding may emerge through convergence of upstream projections from the midbrain map of auditory space. We further show that manipulating the sensory input yields changes predicted by the convergent network in both premotor neural responses and behavior. This work demonstrates how a topographic sensory representation can be linearly read out to adjust behavioral responses by the reliability of the sensory input. Significance statement This research shows how statistics of the sensory input can be integrated into a behavioral command by readout of a sensory representation. The firing rate of midbrain premotor neurons receiving sensory information from a topographic representation of auditory space is weighted by the reliability of sensory cues. We show that these premotor responses are consistent with a weighted convergence from the topographic sensory representation. This convergence was also tested behaviorally, where manipulation of stimulus properties led to bidirectional changes in sound localization errors. Thus a topographic representation of auditory space is translated into a premotor command for sound localization that is modulated by sensory reliability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Mar 22 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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