Premotor predictions facilitate vocal interactions. Here, we study such mechanisms in the forebrain nucleus HVC (proper name), a cortex-like sensorimotor area of songbirds, otherwise known for being essential for singing in zebra finches. To study the role of the HVC in calling interactions between male and female mates, we used wireless telemetric systems for simultaneous measurement of neuronal activity of male zebra finches and vocalizations of males and females that freely interact with each other. In a non-social context, male HVC neurons displayed stereotypic premotor activity in relation to active calling and showed auditory-evoked activity to hearing of played-back female calls. In a social context, HVC neurons displayed auditory-evoked activity to hearing of female calls only if that neuron showed activity preceding the upcoming female calls. We hypothesize that this activity preceding the auditory-evoked activity in the male HVC represents a neural correlate of behavioral anticipation, predictive activity that helps to coordinate vocal communication between social partners.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Most social-living vertebrates produce large numbers of calls per day, and the calls have prominent roles in social interactions. Here, we show neuronal mechanisms that are active during call-based vocal communication of zebra finches, a highly social songbird species. HVC, a forebrain nucleus known for its importance in control of learned vocalizations of songbirds, displays predictive activity that may enable the male to adjust his own calling pattern to produce very fast sequences of male female call exchanges.