Essential to spatial orientation in the natural environment is a dynamic representation of direction and distance to objects. Despite the importance of 3D spatial localization to parse objects in the environment and to guide movement, most neurophysiological investigations of sensory mapping have been limited to studies of restrained subjects, tested with 2D, artificial stimuli. Here, we show for the first time that sensory neurons in the midbrain superior colliculus (SC) of the free-flying echolocating bat encode 3D egocentric space, and that the bat’s inspection of objects in the physical environment sharpens tuning of single neurons, and shifts peak responses to represent closer distances. These findings emerged from wireless neural recordings in free-flying bats, in combination with an echo model that computes the animal’s instantaneous stimulus space. Our research reveals dynamic 3D space coding in a freely moving mammal engaged in a real-world navigation task.
Kothari, N. B., Wohlgemuth, M. J., & Moss, C. F. (2018). Dynamic representation of 3D auditory space in the midbrain of the free-flying echolocating bat. ELife, 7. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.29053