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Single auditory neurons rapidly discriminate conspecific communication signals


Animals that rely on acoustic communication to find mates, such as grasshoppers, are astonishingly accurate in recognizing song patterns that are specific to their own species1,2. This raises the question of whether they can also solve a far more complicated task that might provide a basis for mate preference and sexual selection: to distinguish individual songs by detecting slight variations around the common species-specific theme. Using spike-train discriminability to quantify the precision of neural responses from the auditory periphery of a model grasshopper species, we show that information sufficient to distinguish songs is readily available at the single-cell level when the spike trains are analyzed on a millisecond time scale.

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Figure 1: Acoustic communication signals, artificial songs and sample responses.
Figure 2: Analysis of single neuron responses.


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We thank D. and O. von Helversen for providing the grasshopper songs, J. Benda for discussions and technical support and T. Fitch, F. Gabbiani, D. Krakauer and H. Wagner for critically reading an earlier manuscript version. This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (through Innovationskolleg Theoretische Biologie, SFB 618and Graduiertenkolleg 120).

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Correspondence to Andreas V. M. Herz.

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Machens, C., Schütze, H., Franz, A. et al. Single auditory neurons rapidly discriminate conspecific communication signals. Nat Neurosci 6, 341–342 (2003).

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