Emergent tuning for learned vocalizations in auditory cortex

Nat Neurosci. 2019 Sep;22(9):1469-1476. doi: 10.1038/s41593-019-0458-4. Epub 2019 Aug 12.


Vocal learners use early social experience to develop auditory skills specialized for communication. However, it is unknown where in the auditory pathway neural responses become selective for vocalizations or how the underlying encoding mechanisms change with experience. We used a vocal tutoring manipulation in two species of songbird to reveal that tuning for conspecific song arises within the primary auditory cortical circuit. Neurons in the deep region of primary auditory cortex responded more to conspecific songs than to other species' songs and more to species-typical spectrotemporal modulations, but neurons in the intermediate (thalamorecipient) region did not. Moreover, birds that learned song from another species exhibited parallel shifts in selectivity and tuning toward the tutor species' songs in the deep but not the intermediate region. Our results locate a region in the auditory processing hierarchy where an experience-dependent coding mechanism aligns auditory responses with the output of a learned vocal motor behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Finches / physiology
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*