Fenzl, T.; Schuller, G.: Echolocation calls and communication calls are controlled differentially in the brainstem of the bat Phyllostomus discolor. In: BMC Biology 2005, 3:17




Background: Echolocating bats emit vocalizations that can be classified either as echolocation calls or communication calls. Neural control of both types of calls must govern the same pool of motoneurons responsible for vocalizations. Electrical microstimulation in the periaqueductal gray matter (PAG) elicits both communication and echolocation calls, whereas stimulation of the paralemniscal area (PLA) induces only echolocation calls. In both the PAG and the PLA, the current thresholds for triggering natural vocalizations do not habituate to stimuli and remain low even for long stimulation periods, indicating that these structures have relative direct access to the final common pathway for vocalization. This study intended to clarify whether echolocation calls and communication calls are controlled differentially below the level of the PAG via separate vocal pathways before converging on the motoneurons used in vocalization. Results: Both structures were probed simultaneously in a single experimental approach. Two stimulation electrodes were chronically implanted within the PAG in order to elicit either echolocation or communication calls. Blockade of the ipsilateral PLA site with iontophoretically application of the glutamate antagonist kynurenic acid did not impede either echolocation or communication calls elicited from the PAG. However, blockade of the contralateral PLA suppresses PAG-elicited echolocation calls but not communication calls. In both cases the blockade was reversible. Conclusion: The neural control of echolocation and communication calls seems to be differentially organized below the level of the PAG. The PLA is an essential functional unit for echolocation call control before the descending pathways share again the final common pathway for vocalization.