Data Dialogue: The representation of auditory-vocal memories in the songbird brain
Vocal learning is the ability to imitate sounds with the vocal organ and is the foundation of human spoken language. Similar to humans, songbirds transmit their complex courtship songs from one generation to the next, typically from father to son. Young male birds first listen to and memorize the song of adult male tutors, and later learn to sing highly precise copy of this memorized tutor song. After copying is complete, the young adult songbird uses his song to attract females and to defend his territory from other males. Our goal is to understand how these long lasting auditory memories and vocal signals are represented by neurons in the songbird brain to guide imitative learning. We are using viral-genetic strategies and longitudinal imaging methods to monitor the activity of identified neurons over weeks as birds listen to, memorize, and learn to produce complex vocalizations. We explore how syllables and syllable sequences are spatiotemporally represented in different brain areas dedicated to song learning and production.