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PLoS One. 2013 Apr 24;8(4):e61764. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061764. Print 2013.

Representation of early sensory experience in the adult auditory midbrain: implications for vocal learning.

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  • 1Bio-Imaging Lab, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium.


Vocal learning in songbirds and humans occurs by imitation of adult vocalizations. In both groups, vocal learning includes a perceptual phase during which juveniles birds and infants memorize adult vocalizations. Despite intensive research, the neural mechanisms supporting this auditory memory are still poorly understood. The present functional MRI study demonstrates that in adult zebra finches, the right auditory midbrain nucleus responds selectively to the copied vocalizations. The selective signal is distinct from selectivity for the bird's own song and does not simply reflect acoustic differences between the stimuli. Furthermore, the amplitude of the selective signal is positively correlated with the strength of vocal learning, measured by the amount of song that experimental birds copied from the adult model. These results indicate that early sensory experience can generate a long-lasting memory trace in the auditory midbrain of songbirds that may support song learning.

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