skip to main content

Title: Experience-Dependent Intrinsic Plasticity During Auditory Learning
Song learning in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) requires exposure to the song of a tutor, resulting in an auditory memory. This memory is the foundation for later sensorimotor learning, resulting in the production of a copy of the tutor's song. The cortical premotor nucleus HVC (proper name) is necessary for auditory and sensorimotor learning as well as the eventual production of adult song. We recently discovered that the intrinsic physiology of HVC neurons changes across stages of song learning, but are those changes the result of learning or are they experience-independent developmental changes? To test the role of auditory experience in driving intrinsic changes, patch-clamp experiments were performed comparing HVC neurons in juvenile birds with varying amounts of tutor exposure. The intrinsic physiology of HVC neurons changed as a function of tutor exposure. Counterintuitively, tutor deprivation resulted in juvenile HVC neurons showing an adult-like phenotype not present in tutor-exposed juveniles. Biophysical models were developed to predict which ion channels were modulated by experience. The models indicate that tutor exposure transiently suppressed the Ih and T-type Ca2+ currents in HVC neurons that target the basal ganglia, whereas tutor exposure increased the resting membrane potential and decreased the spike amplitude in HVC neurons that drive singing. Our findings suggest that intrinsic plasticity may be part of the mechanism for auditory learning in the HVC. More broadly, models of learning and memory should consider intrinsic plasticity as a possible mechanism by which the nervous system encodes the lasting effects of experience.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Journal of neuroscience
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Birdsong learning, like human speech, depends on the early memorization of auditory models, yet how initial auditory experiences are formed and consolidated is unclear. In songbirds, a putative cortical locus is the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM), and one mechanism to facilitate auditory consolidation is 17β-estradiol (E2), which is associated with human speech-language development, and is abundant in both NCM and human temporal cortex. Circulating and NCM E2 levels are dynamic during learning, suggesting E2’s involvement in encoding recent auditory experiences. Therefore, we tested this hypothesis in juvenile male songbirds using a comprehensive assessment of neuroanatomy, behavior, and neurophysiology. First, we found that brain aromatase expression, and thus the capacity to synthesize neuroestrogens, remains high in the auditory cortex throughout development. Further, while systemic estrogen synthesis blockade suppressed juvenile song production, neither systemic nor unilateral E2 synthesis inhibition in NCM disrupted eventual song imitation. Surprisingly, early life neuroestrogen synthesis blockade in NCM enhanced the neural representations of both the birds’ own song and the tutor song in NCM and a downstream sensorimotor region, HVC, respectively. Taken together, these findings indicate that E2 plays a multifaceted role during development, and that, contrary to prediction, tutor song memorization is unimpaired by unilateral estrogen synthesis blockade in the auditory cortex.

    more » « less
  2. The acoustic environment an animal experiences early in life shapes the structure and function of its auditory system. This process of experience-dependent development is thought to be primarily orchestrated by potentiation and depression of synapses, but plasticity of intrinsic voltage dynamics may also contribute. Here, we show that in juvenile male and female zebra finches, neurons in a cortical-level auditory area, the caudal mesopallium (CM), can rapidly change their firing dynamics. This plasticity was only observed in birds that were reared in a complex acoustic and social environment, which also caused increased expression of the low-threshold potassium channel Kv1.1 in the plasma membrane and endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Intrinsic plasticity depended on activity, was reversed by blocking low-threshold potassium currents, and was prevented by blocking intracellular calcium signaling. Taken together, these results suggest that Kv1.1 is rapidly mobilized to the plasma membrane by activity-dependent elevation of intracellular calcium. This produces a shift in the excitability and temporal integration of CM neurons that may be permissive for auditory learning in complex acoustic environments during a crucial period for the development of vocal perception and production.

    SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTNeurons can change not only the strength of their connections to other neurons, but also how they integrate synaptic currents to produce patterns of action potentials. In contrast to synaptic plasticity, the mechanisms and functional roles of intrinisic plasticity remain poorly understood. We found that neurons in the zebra finch auditory cortex can rapidly shift their spiking dynamics within a few minutes in response to intracellular stimulation. This plasticity involves increased conductance of a low-threshold potassium current associated with the Kv1.1 channel, but it only occurs in birds reared in a rich acoustic environment. Thus, auditory experience regulates a mechanism of neural plasticity that allows neurons to rapidly adapt their firing dynamics to stimulation.

    more » « less
  3. Many social animals can recognize other individuals by their vocalizations. This requires a memory system capable of mapping incoming acoustic signals to one of many known individuals. Using the zebra finch, a social songbird that uses songs and distance calls to communicate individual identity (Elie and Theunissen, 2018), we tested the role of two cortical-like brain regions in a vocal recognition task. We found that the rostral region of the Cadomedial Nidopallium (NCM), a secondary auditory region of the avian pallium, was necessary for maintaining auditory memories for conspecific vocalizations in both male and female birds, whereas HVC (used as a proper name), a premotor areas that gates auditory input into the vocal motor and song learning pathways in male birds (Roberts and Mooney, 2013), was not. Both NCM and HVC have previously been implicated for processing the tutor song in the context of song learning (Sakata and Yazaki-Sugiyama, 2020). Our results suggest that NCM might not only store songs as templates for future vocal imitation but also songs and calls for perceptual discrimination of vocalizers in both male and female birds. NCM could therefore operate as a site for auditory memories for vocalizations used in various facets of communication. We also observed that new auditory memories could be acquired without intact HVC or NCM but that for these new memories NCM lesions caused deficits in either memory capacity or auditory discrimination. These results suggest that the high-capacity memory functions of the avian pallial auditory system depend on NCM.

    SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTMany aspects of vocal communication require the formation of auditory memories. Voice recognition, for example, requires a memory for vocalizers to identify acoustical features. In both birds and primates, the locus and neural correlates of these high-level memories remain poorly described. Previous work suggests that this memory formation is mediated by high-level sensory areas, not traditional memory areas such as the hippocampus. Using lesion experiments, we show that one secondary auditory brain region in songbirds that had previously been implicated in storing song memories for vocal imitation is also implicated in storing vocal memories for individual recognition. The role of the neural circuits in this region in interpreting the meaning of communication calls should be investigated in the future.

    more » « less
  4. Graham, Lyle J. (Ed.)
    Neurons exhibit diverse intrinsic dynamics, which govern how they integrate synaptic inputs to produce spikes. Intrinsic dynamics are often plastic during development and learning, but the effects of these changes on stimulus encoding properties are not well known. To examine this relationship, we simulated auditory responses to zebra finch song using a linear-dynamical cascade model, which combines a linear spectrotemporal receptive field with a dynamical, conductance-based neuron model, then used generalized linear models to estimate encoding properties from the resulting spike trains. We focused on the effects of a low-threshold potassium current (K LT ) that is present in a subset of cells in the zebra finch caudal mesopallium and is affected by early auditory experience. We found that K LT affects both spike adaptation and the temporal filtering properties of the receptive field. The direction of the effects depended on the temporal modulation tuning of the linear (input) stage of the cascade model, indicating a strongly nonlinear relationship. These results suggest that small changes in intrinsic dynamics in tandem with differences in synaptic connectivity can have dramatic effects on the tuning of auditory neurons. 
    more » « less
  5. Coordination of behavior for cooperative performances often relies on linkages mediated by sensory cues exchanged between participants. How neurophysiological responses to sensory information affect motor programs to coordinate behavior between individuals is not known. We investigated how plain-tailed wrens (Pheugopedius euophrys) use acoustic feedback to coordinate extraordinary duet performances in which females and males rapidly take turns singing. We made simultaneous neurophysiological recordings in a song control area “HVC” in pairs of singing wrens at a field site in Ecuador. HVC is a premotor area that integrates auditory feedback and is necessary for song production. We found that spiking activity of HVC neurons in each sex increased for production of its own syllables. In contrast, hearing sensory feedback produced by the bird’s partner decreased HVC activity during duet singing, potentially coordinating HVC premotor activity in each bird through inhibition. When birds sang alone, HVC neurons in females but not males were inhibited by hearing the partner bird. When birds were anesthetized with urethane, which antagonizes GABAergic (γ-aminobutyric acid) transmission, HVC neurons were excited rather than inhibited, suggesting a role for GABA in the coordination of duet singing. These data suggest that HVC integrates information across partners during duets and that rapid turn taking may be mediated, in part, by inhibition.

    more » « less