Songbirds such as starlings provide an excellent model for speech development and auditory recognition and learning. Behavioral data indicates that starlings rely on recognition of specific elements of song to identify their neighbors and extracellular electrophysiological and IEG (immediate early gene) studies have revealed that neurons in high-level auditory areas respond selectively to these song elements. Previous studies in starlings, as well as mammals indicate that learning of a sensory task modulates the firing properties of neurons in primary and high-level sensory areas. Starlings readily adapt to an operant training environment, exhibiting rapidly learning of complex auditory """"""""objects"""""""" related to song recognition behavior in the wild. The application aims to determine how the response of auditory neurons to training stimuli evolves over the full course of learning while testing theories on auditory memory consolidation and interference. In order to examine changes in neural representations in fine temporal and spatial detail while monitoring the changes within the entire region over the full course of learning, both chronic behaving and awake restrained multisite single unit electrophysiological techniques will be used. This will permit observation of modifications in the response properties of single unit neurons as the bird performs individual trials in the training task, as well as assessment of shifts in the aggregate neural response strength of large populations of neurons occurring over the course of days. We will examine both how auditory memories are laid down and how these patterns change when new memories are acquired. Transitory, broadly distributed changes in strength of resposne to individual song """"""""motifs"""""""" will be indicative of an initial acquisition phase. Longer- term changes in number or strength of small set of selectively responding neurons will be related to memory maintenance. These experiments have the potential to shed light on how auditory memories are formed and pass from a labile state to become fixed in long-term memory. Our ability to memorize and rapidly retrieve words is a fundamental element of human cognition, contributing to semantics in speech and language. A variety of illnesses can disrupt this process leading to devastating impairment, yet treatment is hindered because the basic neuronal substrates for high-level auditory processing are poorly understood. Here we application research on a novel animal system that has great promise to give insights into how auditory memories are formed and maintained.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Communication Disorders Review Committee (CDRC)
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Cyr, Janet
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University of Chicago
Schools of Medicine
United States
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