Auditory response properties and spatial response areas of single neurons in the pontine nuclei of the big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus.


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Using free-field acoustic stimulation conditions, we studied the response properties and spatial sensitivity of 146 pontine neurons of the big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus. The best frequency (BF) and minimum threshold (MT) of a pontine neuron were first determined with a sound broadcast from a loudspeaker placed ahead of the bat. A BF sound was delivered from the loudspeaker as it moved across the frontal auditory space in order to locate the response center at which the neuron had its lowest MT. Then the basic response properties of the neuron to a sound delivered from the response center were studied. As in inferior collicular and auditory cortical neurons, pontine neurons can be characterized as phasic responders, phasic bursters and tonic responders. They have both monotonic and non-monotonic intensity-rate functions. However, most of them are broadly tuned as are cerebellar neurons. Auditory spatial sensitivity was studied for 144 pontine neurons. In 9 neurons, variation of MT with a BF sound delivered from several azimuthal and elevational angles along the horizontal and vertical planes crossing the neuron's response center was measured. In addition, variation in the number of impulses with several stimulus intensities at 10 dB increments above a neuron's MT delivered from each angle was also studied. The auditory spatial sensitivity of other pontine neurons was studied by measuring the response area of each neuron with stimulus intensities at 3, 5, 10, 15 or 40 dB above its lowest MT. The response areas of pontine neurons expanded asymmetrically with stimulus intensity, but the size of the response area was not correlated with either MT or BF. In half of the pontine neurons studied, the response area expanded greatly and eventually covered almost the entire frontal auditory space. The response areas of the other half of the pontine neurons only expanded to a restricted area of frontal auditory space. Two possible neural mechanisms underlying these two types of response areas are hypothesized. The response centers of all 144 neurons were located within a small area of the frontal auditory space. The locations of response centers of these neurons are not correlated with their BFs. The distribution pattern of these response centers is comparable to that of superior collicular and cerebellar neurons but is different from that of inferior collicular and auditory cortical neurons. The results of our study suggest that auditory information is integrated in the pontine nuclei before being further sent into the cerebellum.
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