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State-dependent hemispheric specialization in the songbird brain

Abstract : Lateralization of brain functions is a widespread phenomenon in vertebrates. With the well-known lateralization in the processing of human speech and the parallels that exist between birdsong and language, songbirds are interesting for addressing such questions. In the present study, we investigated the central processing of communicative and artificial sounds in starlings, in an integrative part of the song system: the HVC. Neuronal responses to acoustic stimuli were systematically recorded in both hemispheres while the birds were awake, and then anesthetized, allowing quantitative comparisons of the responses obtained in each situation. The total proportion of responsive sites in the HVC of the left and right hemispheres of all birds revealed a significant predominance of the HVC of the right hemisphere when the birds were awake, whereas a high interindividual variability appeared when the birds were anesthetized. When neuronal responses as a whole were further examined, the responses to each type of stimulus appeared to be nonrandomly distributed over the different situations, and some specialization may appear. The results suggest a complex and state-dependent hemispheric specialization toward behaviorally relevant classes of stimuli. In awake birds, the HVC of the left hemisphere may be more involved in the processing of songs that are used in individual recognition at distance, whereas the HVC of the right hemisphere may deal with long and complex sequences of a song that is involved in short-distance communication, especially between males and females. With birds under anesthesia, this pattern is strongly modified. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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Isabelle George, Hugo Cousillas, Jean-Pierre Richard, Martine Hausberger. State-dependent hemispheric specialization in the songbird brain. Journal of Comparative Neurology, Wiley, 2005, 488 (1), pp.48--60. ⟨10.1002/cne.20584⟩. ⟨hal-01303563⟩

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