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J Neurosci. 2009 Mar 4;29(9):2780-93. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2042-08.2009.

Functional groups in the avian auditory system.

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Department of Psychology, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA.


Auditory perception depends on the coding and organization of the information-bearing acoustic features of sounds by auditory neurons. We report here that auditory neurons can be classified into functional groups, each of which plays a specific role in extracting distinct complex sound features. We recorded the electrophysiological responses of single auditory neurons in the songbird midbrain and forebrain to conspecific song, measured their tuning by calculating spectrotemporal receptive fields (STRFs), and classified them using multiple cluster analysis methods. Based on STRF shape, cells clustered into functional groups that divided the space of acoustical features into regions that represent cues for the fundamental acoustic percepts of pitch, timbre, and rhythm. Four major groups were found in the midbrain, and five major groups were found in the forebrain. Comparing STRFs in midbrain and forebrain neurons suggested that both inheritance and emergence of tuning properties occur as information ascends the auditory processing stream.

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