Functional MRI of the zebra finch brain during song stimulation suggests a lateralized response topography.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Electrophysiological and activity-dependent gene expression studies of birdsong have contributed to the understanding of the neural representation of natural sounds. However, we have limited knowledge about the overall spatial topography of song representation in the avian brain. Here, we adapt the noninvasive functional MRI method in mildly sedated zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) to localize and characterize song driven brain activation. Based on the blood oxygenation level-dependent signal, we observed a differential topographic responsiveness to playback of bird's own song, tutor song, conspecific song, and a pure tone as a nonsong stimulus. The bird's own song caused a stronger response than the tutor song or tone in higher auditory areas. This effect was more pronounced in the medial parts of the forebrain. We found left-right hemispheric asymmetry in sensory responses to songs, with significant discrimination between stimuli observed only in the right hemisphere. This finding suggests that perceptual responses might be lateralized in zebra finches. In addition to establishing the feasibility of functional MRI in sedated songbirds, our results demonstrate spatial coding of song in the zebra finch forebrain, based on developmental familiarity and experience.