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Peer-Reviewed Article

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Songbirds have emerged as powerful experimental models for the study of auditory processing of complex natural communication signals. Intact hearing is necessary for several behaviors in developing and adult animals including vocal learning, territorial defense, mate selection and individual recognition. These behaviors are thought to require the processing, discrimination and memorization of songs. Although much is known about the brain circuits that participate in sensorimotor (auditory-vocal) integration, especially the “songcontrol” system, less is known about the anatomical and functional organization of central auditory pathways. Here we discuss findings associated with a telencephalic auditory area known as the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM). NCM has attracted significant interest as it exhibits functional properties that may support higher order auditory functions such as stimulus discrimination and the formation of auditory memories. NCM neurons are vigorously driven by auditory stimuli. Interestingly, these responses are selective to conspecific, relative to heterospecific songs and artificial stimuli. In addition, forms of experience-dependent plasticity occur in NCM and are song-specific. Finally, recent experiments employing highthroughput quantitative proteomics suggest that complex protein regulatory pathways are engaged in NCM as a result of auditory experience. These molecular cascades are likely central to experience-associated plasticity of NCM circuitry and may be part of a network of calcium-driven molecular events that support the formation of auditory memory traces.





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