Here we show that inhibition shapes diverse responses to species- specific calls in the inferior colliculus (IC) of Mexican free-tailed bats. We presented 10 calls to each neuron of which 8 were social communication and 2 were echolocation calls. We also measured excitatory response regions: the range of tone burst frequencies that evoked discharges at a fixed intensity. The calls evoked highly selective responses in that IC neurons responded to some calls but not others even though those calls swept through their excitatory response regions. By convolving activity in the response regions with the spectrogram of each call, we evaluated whether responses to tone bursts could predict discharge patterns evoked by species-specific calls. The convolutions often predicted responses to calls that evoked no responses and thus were inaccurate. Blocking inhibition at the IC reduced or eliminated selectivity and greatly improved the predictive accuracy of the convolutions. By comparing the responses evoked by two calls with similar spectra, we show that each call evoked a unique spatiotemporal pattern of activity distributed across and within isofrequency contours and that the disparity in the population response was greatly reduced by blocking inhibition. Thus the inhibition evoked by each call can shape a unique pattern of activity in the IC population and that pattern may be important for both the identification of a particular call and for discriminating it from other calls and other signals.
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