Theses Doctoral

Influences of behavioral state and developmental vocal learning on neural coding in the songbird auditory system

Schumacher, Joseph William

Vocal communicators such as humans and songbirds rely on their auditory systems to learn, recognize, and encode acoustic features of communication vocalizations. Yet it remains unclear how varying behavioral, experimental, and developmental contexts impact neural coding in the songbird auditory system. In this dissertation I demonstrate that experimental and behavioral contexts relating to arousal are sufficient to alter neural excitability in a way that has implications for neural coding in the songbird auditory system. First I show that urethane, a common anesthetic used in neurophysiological studies of songbird and mammalian auditory neurons, suppresses neural excitability but does not alter spectrotemporal tuning or neural discrimination in single auditory midbrain neurons. Next, I demonstrate that neurons in the songbird primary auditory cortical region Field L are sensitive to local concentrations of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter involved mediating changes in arousal and behavioral state. Lastly, I report the results of a developmental study that demonstrates experience-dependent changes in temporal and spectral tuning in songbird auditory cortical neurons during vocal learning. These developmental effects were found to have region and cell-type specificity, and highlight potential functional roles for dorsal and ventral auditory cortical neurons in the songbird auditory cortex. The findings reported here have important implications for future studies into the neurophysiology of vocal learning.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Woolley, Sarah Margaret Nicolay
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 15, 2014