Conserved mechanisms of vocalization coding in mammalian and songbird auditory midbrain

Hear Res. 2013 Nov;305:45-56. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2013.05.005. Epub 2013 May 31.


The ubiquity of social vocalizations among animals provides the opportunity to identify conserved mechanisms of auditory processing that subserve communication. Identifying auditory coding properties that are shared across vocal communicators will provide insight into how human auditory processing leads to speech perception. Here, we compare auditory response properties and neural coding of social vocalizations in auditory midbrain neurons of mammalian and avian vocal communicators. The auditory midbrain is a nexus of auditory processing because it receives and integrates information from multiple parallel pathways and provides the ascending auditory input to the thalamus. The auditory midbrain is also the first region in the ascending auditory system where neurons show complex tuning properties that are correlated with the acoustics of social vocalizations. Single unit studies in mice, bats and zebra finches reveal shared principles of auditory coding including tonotopy, excitatory and inhibitory interactions that shape responses to vocal signals, nonlinear response properties that are important for auditory coding of social vocalizations and modulation tuning. Additionally, single neuron responses in the mouse and songbird midbrain are reliable, selective for specific syllables, and rely on spike timing for neural discrimination of distinct vocalizations. We propose that future research on auditory coding of vocalizations in mouse and songbird midbrain neurons adopt similar experimental and analytical approaches so that conserved principles of vocalization coding may be distinguished from those that are specialized for each species. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled "Communication Sounds and the Brain: New Directions and Perspectives".

Keywords: A1; CF; DCN; DNLL; IC; ICc; INLL; LLD; LLI; LLV; LSO; MGB; MLd; MSO; NA; NL; NM; OC; Ov; RA; SON; SPN; VCN; VNLL; central nucleus of the inferior colliculus; characteristic frequency; dB; decibels; dorsal cochlear nucleus; dorsal nucleus of the lateral lemniscus; inferior colliculus; intermediate nucleus of the lateral lemniscus; kHz; kilohertz; lateral dorsal mesencephalon; lateral superior olive; medial geniculate body; medial superior olive; millisecond; ms; nucleus angularis; nucleus laminaris; nucleus magnocellularis; nucleus ovoidalis; olivocochlear nucleus; primary auditory cortex; robust nucleus of the arcopallium; superior olivary nucleus; superior paraolivary nucleus; ventral cochlear nucleus; ventral nucleus of the lateral lemniscus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Chiroptera / physiology
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Pattern Recognition, Physiological
  • Social Behavior
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Vocalization, Animal*