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Neural representation of spectral and temporal features of song in the auditory forebrain of zebra finches as revealed by functional MRI


Song perception in songbirds, just as music and speech perception in humans, requires processing the spectral and temporal structure found in the succession of song-syllables. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and synthetic songs that preserved exclusively either the temporal or the spectral structure of natural song, we investigated how vocalizations are processed in the avian forebrain. We found bilateral and equal activation of the primary auditory region, field L. The more ventral regions of field L showed depressed responses to the synthetic songs that lacked spectral structure. These ventral regions included subarea L3, medial-ventral subarea L and potentially the secondary auditory region caudal medial nidopallium. In addition, field L as a whole showed unexpected increased responses to the temporally filtered songs and this increase was the largest in the dorsal regions. These dorsal regions included L1 and the dorsal subareas L and L2b. Therefore, the ventral region of field L appears to be more sensitive to the preservation of both spectral and temporal information in the context of song processing. We did not find any differences in responses to playback of the bird's own song vs other familiar conspecific songs. We also investigated the effect of three commonly used anaesthetics on the blood oxygen level-dependent response: medetomidine, urethane and isoflurane. The extent of the area activated and the stimulus selectivity depended on the type of anaesthetic. We discuss these results in the context of what is known about the locus of action of the anaesthetics, and reports of neural activity measured in electrophysiological experiments.

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