Rhythmic Continuous-Time Coding in the Songbird Analog of Vocal Motor Cortex


Songbirds learn and produce complex sequences of vocal gestures. Adult birdsong requires premotor nucleus HVC, in which projection neurons (PNs) burst sparsely at stereotyped times in the song. It has been hypothesized that PN bursts, as a population, form a continuous sequence, while a different model of HVC function proposes that both HVC PN and interneuron activity is tightly organized around motor gestures. Using a large dataset of PNs and interneurons recorded in singing birds, we test several predictions of these models. We find that PN bursts in adult birds are continuously and nearly uniformly distributed throughout song. However, we also find that PN and interneuron firing rates exhibit significant 10-Hz rhythmicity locked to song syllables, peaking prior to syllable onsets and suppressed prior to offsets—a pattern that predominates PN and interneuron activity in HVC during early stages of vocal learning.


* Equal contributions