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Bioacoustic paper in Nature

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Subject: Bioacoustic paper in Nature
From: Jianqiang XIAO <>
Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2008 03:25:35 +0800
Precise auditory–vocal mirroring in neurons for learned vocal communication
Nature 451, 305-310 (17 January 2008)
J. F. Prather, S. Peters, S. Nowicki & R. Mooney
Brain mechanisms for communication must establish a correspondence between 
sensory and motor codes used to represent the signal. One idea is that this 
correspondence is established at the level of single neurons that are active 
when the individual performs a particular gesture or observes a similar gesture 
performed by another individual. Although neurons that display a precise 
auditory–vocal correspondence could facilitate vocal communication, they have 
yet to be identified. Here we report that a certain class of neurons in the 
swamp sparrow forebrain displays a precise auditory–vocal correspondence. We 
show that these neurons respond in a temporally precise fashion to auditory 
presentation of certain note sequences in this songbird's repertoire and to 
similar note sequences in other birds' songs. These neurons display nearly 
identical patterns of activity when the bird sings the same sequence, and 
disrupting auditory feedback does not alter this singing-related activity, in
 dicating it is motor in nature. Furthermore, these neurons innervate striatal 
structures important for song learning, raising the possibility that 
singing-related activity in these cells is compared to auditory feedback to 
guide vocal learning.

See also:
Editor's summary
Listen and learn
The 'mirror' neurons found in primates allow an individual to mimic or mirror 
another's behaviour, as they fire when a specific action, such as a hand 
gesture, is either performed or observed. A prime example of mimicry is vocal 
learning, as in human speech and bird­song. An obvious job for mirror neurons 
perhaps, but until now no auditory-vocal mirror neurons had been reported. Now, 
in a study of the swamp sparrow, a bird that resembles humans in its dependence 
on auditory experience to learn its vocal repertoire, a class of forebrain 
neurons specialized for auditory-vocal monitoring has been identified. They 
have virtually the same response to a given note sequence, whether performed or 

News and Views
Behavioural neuroscience: Neurons of imitation p249
Ofer Tchernichovski & Josh Wallman
In songbirds, a class of neurons shows a striking similarity in activity when 
the bird sings and when it hears a similar song. This mirroring neuronal 
activity could contribute to imitation.



XIAO, Jianqiang, Ph.D.
Research Associate
Psychology Department
Rutgers University
152 Frelinghuysen Road
Piscataway, NJ 08854

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