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1.  Bigger Brains or Bigger Nuclei? Regulating the Size of Auditory Structures in Birds 
Brain, Behavior and Evolution  2004;63(3):169-180.
Increases in the size of the neuronal structures that mediate specific behaviors are believed to be related to enhanced computational performance. It is not clear, however, what developmental and evolutionary mechanisms mediate these changes, nor whether an increase in the size of a given neuronal population is a general mechanism to achieve enhanced computational ability. We addressed the issue of size by analyzing the variation in the relative number of cells of auditory structures in auditory specialists and generalists. We show that bird species with different auditory specializations exhibit variation in the relative size of their hindbrain auditory nuclei. In the barn owl, an auditory specialist, the hind-brain auditory nuclei involved in the computation of sound location show hyperplasia. This hyperplasia was also found in songbirds, but not in non-auditory specialists. The hyperplasia of auditory nuclei was also not seen in birds with large body weight suggesting that the total number of cells is selected for in auditory specialists. In barn owls, differences observed in the relative size of the auditory nuclei might be attributed to modifications in neurogenesis and cell death. Thus, hyperplasia of circuits used for auditory computation accompanies auditory specialization in different orders of birds.
PMCID: PMC3269630  PMID: 14726625
Evolution; Auditory; Neuronal computation; Birds; Allometry
2.  Developmental Changes Underlying the Formation of the Specialized Time Coding Circuits in Barn Owls (Tyto alba) 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2002;22(17):7671-7679.
Barn owls are capable of great accuracy in detecting the interaural time differences (ITDs) that underlie azimuthal sound localization. They compute ITDs in a circuit in nucleus laminaris (NL) that is reorganized with respect to birds like the chicken. The events that lead to the reorganization of the barn owl NL take place during embryonic development, shortly after the cochlear and laminaris nuclei have differentiated morphologically. At first the developing owl’s auditory brainstem exhibits morphology reminiscent of that of the developing chicken. Later, the two systems diverge, and the owl’s brainstem auditory nuclei undergo a secondary morphogenetic phase during which NL dendrites retract, the laminar organization is lost, and synapses are redistributed. These events lead to the restructuring of the ITD coding circuit and the consequent reorganization of the hindbrain map of ITDs and azimuthal space.
PMCID: PMC3260528  PMID: 12196590
avian development; morphogenesis; auditory; laminaris; evolution; interaural time difference
3.  Tracking the Temporal Evolution of a Perceptual Judgement Using a Compelled-Response Task 
Choice behavior and its neural correlates have been intensely studied with tasks in which a subject makes a perceptual judgement and indicates the result with a motor action. Yet, a question crucial for relating behavior to neural activity remains unresolved: what fraction of a subject’s reaction time (RT) is devoted to the perceptual evaluation step, as opposed to executing the motor report? Making such timing measurements accurately is complicated because RTs reflect both sensory and motor processing, and because speed and accuracy may be traded. To overcome these problems, we designed the compelled-saccade task, a two-alternative forced-choice task in which the instruction to initiate a saccade precedes the appearance of the relevant sensory information. With this paradigm, it is possible to track perceptual performance as a function of the amount of time during which sensory information is available to influence a subject’s choice. The result — the tachometric curve — directly reveals a subject’s perceptual processing capacity independently of motor demands. Psychophysical data, together with modeling and computer-simulation results, reveal that task performance depends on three separable components: the timing of the motor responses, the speed of the perceptual evaluation, and additional cognitive factors. Each can vary quickly, from one trial to the next, or can show stable, longer-term changes. This novel dissociation between sensory and motor processes yields a precise metric of how perceptual capacity varies under various experimental conditions, and serves to interpret choice-related neuronal activity as perceptual, motor, or both.
PMCID: PMC3134312  PMID: 21653845
choice; decision making; discrimination; mental chronometry; monkey; race to threshold; reaction time; reward; saccade
4.  Perceptual decision making in less than 30 milliseconds 
Nature neuroscience  2010;13(3):379-385.
In perceptual discrimination tasks, a subject’s response time is determined both by sensory and motor processes. Measuring the time consumed by the perceptual evaluation step alone is thus complicated by factors such as motor preparation, task difficulty and speed-accuracy tradeoffs. Here we present a task design that minimizes these confounds and allows us to track a subject’s perceptual performance with unprecedented temporal resolution. We find that monkeys can make accurate color discriminations in less than 30 ms. Furthermore, our simple task design provides a novel tool for elucidating how neuronal activity relates to sensory versus motor processing, as demonstrated with neural data from cortical oculomotor neurons. In these cells, perceptual information acts by accelerating and decelerating the ongoing motor plans associated with correct and incorrect choices, as predicted by a race-to-threshold model, and the time course of these neural events parallels the time course of the subject's choice accuracy.
PMCID: PMC2834559  PMID: 20098418
Choice; discrimination; mental chronometry; race to threshold; reaction time; reward; psychophysics; saccade

Results 1-4 (4)