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

10 Scopus citations


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 midbrain tegmentum of owls (male and female), 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7270-7279
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number33
StatePublished - Aug 15 2018


  • Adaptive behavior
  • Barn owl
  • Behavioral bias
  • Hearing
  • Sensory reliability
  • Sound localization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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