Population-Level Representation of a Temporal Sequence Underlying Song Production in the Zebra Finch

Neuron. 2016 May 18;90(4):866-76. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.02.016.


The zebra finch brain features a set of clearly defined and hierarchically arranged motor nuclei that are selectively responsible for producing singing behavior. One of these regions, a critical forebrain structure called HVC, contains premotor neurons that are active at precise time points during song production. However, the neural representation of this behavior at a population level remains elusive. We used two-photon microscopy to monitor ensemble activity during singing, integrating across multiple trials by adopting a Bayesian inference approach to more precisely estimate burst timing. Additionally, we examined spiking and motor-related synaptic inputs using intracellular recordings during singing. With both experimental approaches, we find that premotor events do not occur preferentially at the onsets or offsets of song syllables or at specific subsyllabic motor landmarks. These results strongly support the notion that HVC projection neurons collectively exhibit a temporal sequence during singing that is uncoupled from ongoing movements.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Electrophysiology / methods
  • Female
  • Finches / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prosencephalon / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*