Songbirds rely on auditory processing of natural communication signals for a number of social behaviors, including mate selection, individual recognition and the rare behavior of vocal learning – the ability to learn vocalizations through imitation of an adult model, rather than by instinct. Like mammals, songbirds possess a set of interconnected ascending and descending auditory brain pathways that process acoustic information and that are presumably involved in the perceptual processing of vocal communication signals. Most auditory areas studied to date are located in the caudomedial forebrain of the songbird and include the thalamo-recipient field L (subfields L1, L2 and L3), the caudomedial and caudolateral mesopallium (CMM and CLM, respectively) and the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM). This review focuses on NCM, an auditory area previously proposed to be analogous to parts of the primary auditory cortex in mammals. Stimulation of songbirds with auditory stimuli drives vigorous electrophysiological responses and the expression of several activity-regulated genes in NCM. Interestingly, NCM neurons are tuned to species-specific songs and undergo some forms of experience-dependent plasticity in-vivo. These activity-dependent changes may underlie long-term modifications in the functional performance of NCM and constitute a potential neural substrate for auditory discrimination. We end this review by discussing evidence that suggests that NCM may be a site of auditory memory formation and/or storage.
Volume 45, 2020
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