Temporal and harmonic combination-sensitive neurons in the zebra finch's HVc

D. Margoliash, E. S. Fortune

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

292 Scopus citations


Song learning shapes the response properties of auditory neurons in the song system to become highly selective for the individual bird's own ('autogenous') song. The auditory representation of autogenous song is achieved in part by neurons that exhibit facilitated responses to combinations of components of song. To understand the circuits that underlie these complex properties, the combination sensitivity of single units in the hyperstriatum ventrale, pars caudale (HVc) of urethane-anesthetized zebra finches was studied. Some neurons exhibited nonlinear temporal summation, spectral summation, or both. The majority of these neurons exhibited low spontaneous rates and phasic responses. Most combination-sensitive neurons required highly accurate copies of sounds derived from the autogenous song and responded weakly to tone bursts, combinations of simple stimuli, or conspecific songs. Temporal combination-sensitive (TCS) neurons required either two or more segments of a single syllable, or two or more syllables of the autogenous song, to elicit a facilitated, excitatory response. TCS neurons integrated auditory input over periods ranging from 80 to 350 msec, although this represents a lower limit. Harmonic combination-sensitive (HCS) neurons required combinations of two harmonics with particular frequency and temporal characteristics that were similar to autogenous song syllables. Both TCS and HCS neurons responded much more weakly when the dynamical spectral features of the autogenous song or syllables were modified than when the dynamical amplitude (waveform) features of the songs were modified. These results suggest that understanding the temporal dynamics of auditory responses in HVc may provide insight into neuronal circuits modified by song learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4309-4326
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


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