Statistical learning of transition patterns in the songbird auditory forebrain

Mingwen Dong, David S. Vicario

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Statistical learning of transition patterns between sounds—a striking capability of the auditory system—plays an essential role in animals’ survival (e.g., detect deviant sounds that signal danger). However, the neural mechanisms underlying this capability are still not fully understood. We recorded extracellular multi-unit and single-unit activity in the auditory forebrain of awake male zebra finches while presenting rare repetitions of a single sound in a long sequence of sounds (canary and zebra finch song syllables) patterned in either an alternating or random order at different inter-stimulus intervals (ISI). When preceding stimuli were regularly alternating (alternating condition), a repeated stimulus violated the preceding transition pattern and was a deviant. When preceding stimuli were in random order (control condition), a repeated stimulus did not violate any regularities and was not a deviant. At all ISIs tested (1 s, 3 s, or jittered at 0.8–1.2 s), deviant repetition enhanced neural responses in the alternating condition in a secondary auditory area (caudomedial nidopallium, NCM) but not in the primary auditory area (Field L2); in contrast, repetition suppressed responses in the control condition in both Field L2 and NCM. When stimuli were presented in the classical oddball paradigm at jittered ISI (0.8–1.2 s), neural responses in both NCM and Field L2 were stronger when a stimulus occurred as deviant with low probability than when the same stimulus occurred as standard with high probability. Together, these results demonstrate: (1) classical oddball effect exists even when ISI is jittered and the onset of a stimulus is not fully predictable; (2) neurons in NCM can learn transition patterns between sounds at multiple ISIs and detect violation of these transition patterns; (3) sensitivity to deviant sounds increases from Field L2 to NCM in the songbird auditory forebrain. Further studies using the current paradigms may help us understand the neural substrate of statistical learning and even speech comprehension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7848
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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