Send to

Choose Destination
J Neurosci. 2008 Oct 8;28(41):10370-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2448-08.2008.

Central contributions to acoustic variation in birdsong.

Author information

Department of Physiology, W. M. Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience, San Francisco, California 94143-0444, USA.


Birdsong is a learned behavior remarkable for its high degree of stereotypy. Nevertheless, adult birds display substantial rendition-by-rendition variation in the structure of individual song elements or "syllables." Previous work suggests that some of this variation is actively generated by the avian basal ganglia circuitry for purposes of motor exploration. However, it is unknown whether and how natural variations in premotor activity drive variations in syllable structure. Here, we recorded from the premotor nucleus robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA) in Bengalese finches and measured whether neural activity covaried with syllable structure across multiple renditions of individual syllables. We found that variations in premotor activity were significantly correlated with variations in the acoustic features (pitch, amplitude, and spectral entropy) of syllables in approximately a quarter of all cases. In these cases, individual neural recordings predicted 8.5 +/- 0.3% (mean +/- SE) of the behavioral variation, and in some cases accounted for 25% or more of trial-by-trial variations in acoustic output. The prevalence and strength of neuron-behavior correlations indicate that each acoustic feature is controlled by a large ensemble of neurons that vary their activity in a coordinated manner. Additionally, we found that correlations with pitch (but not other features) were predominantly positive in sign, supporting a model of pitch production based on the anatomy and physiology of the vocal motor apparatus. Collectively, our results indicate that trial-by-trial variations in spectral structure are indeed under central neural control at the level of RA, consistent with the idea that such variation reflects motor exploration.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center