Real-life spatial behaviors are complex. To study the neural mechanisms that support ethologically relevant forms of navigation we utilize an exquisite aerial navigator – the bat, and study its relevant neural circuits using a combination of cutting-edge behavioral and neurophysiological methodologies. At the behavioral level, we developed a fully automated flight room where either a single bat or multiple bats can engage in natural and unconstrained forms of navigation. Utilizing an array of high-speed video cameras, real-time tracking systems and ultrasonic microphones we can carefully monitor the position, motion and sensory signals of the navigating bats at fine spatial and temporal resolutions. We combine this with the utilization of wireless neural recordings methods in single and multi-animal settings as well as with our recent establishment of wireless calcium imaging methods in freely flying bats. We further incorporate our recent establishment of causal manipulation tools, such as optogenetics, in bats which allow us to begin addressing the necessity and sufficiency of neural circuits during complex spatial behaviors. Combining these approaches, we aim to study how mammalian neural circuits participate and contribute to complex spatial behaviors at both the individual and group level.
Acoustic Communication and Vocal Learning
Acoustic communication between individuals is necessary for survival. Under natural conditions, such interactions are usually bidirectional, employ the usage of diverse species-specific communication signals and often occur between individuals of varying social bonds. Further, in the case of humans, the acoustic signals that are used for communication (language) are learned - a feature that is not shared by the vast majority of mammals, including our closest non-human primate relatives and all standard laboratory mammals, such as rats and mice.
We choose to use bats because they possess a rare combination of acoustic abilities that are advantageous for studying the neural mechanisms underlying real-life acoustic communication.
Our species of bats possess a rich and diverse vocabulary of different acoustic communication signals that are used during social interactions between individuals. Further, unlike the overwhelming majority of non-human mammals, the bat vocalizations are potentially learned from conspecifics. This unique feature allows us to study the detailed mammalian neural circuits supporting this core human function.
Building on our recent development of behavioral and neurophysiological methods in bats we now aim to take advantage of their extraordinary acoustic abilities to understand how these signals are learned and then used under natural social conditions.
Group Social Behavior
Many creatures, including humans, naturally live and interact in group. Yet, we rarely study the brain under group social conditions. Bats are well suited for this study as they are long-lived mammals (25-40 years) that spent the majority of their lives in group social living conditions. Additionally, they have evolved a dedicated vocal communication system (separate from their echolocation abilities) that is exclusively utilized for social interaction. Combined with our establishment of multi-animal wireless neurophysiological and imaging approaches, we are presented with the unique opportunity to study the neural computations underlying group social behavior under a variety of ethologically relevant conditions.
Miniaturized Wireless Electrophysiology
Circuit Mapping Using Tracing and Molecular Methods
Miniaturized Calcium Imaging
We are grateful for the generous support of our research through the following organizations: