C. Daniel Meliza


Research Interest(s)

Neural Mechanisms of Pattern Learning and Recognition in the Auditory System

Research Description

My lab studies neural mechanisms of pattern learning and recognition in the auditory system. We work in two species of songbirds, the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) and the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata). Starlings and finches live in large groups with dynamic social structures and use song to communicate individual identity, sexual fitness, and other social signals. Songbirds can learn to recognize hundreds of songs from different individuals under challenging and variable acoustic conditions. Understanding how their brains separate signal from noise and form coherent perceptual categories will give insight into similar processes underlying speech perception and other forms of perceptual learning.

Current research areas include:

Auditory categorical recognition: Using behavioral methods, we examine how starlings learn categories of acoustic signals from sensory experience, how categories reflect variation in the features of the signals, and how learning affects subsequent perceptual processing. We also study how auditory categories form in natural social settings and depend on group structure and dynamics.

Population encoding of acoustic categories: Perceptual categories likely arise from coordinated activity in dynamic assemblies of neurons, which can integrate across time and frequency, filter out noise, infer missing features, and discriminate between patterns that differ in only a few critical features. We use chronic, multi-electrode methods to record from large populations of neurons in behaving animals and advanced statistical techniques to study population responses to songs and how distributions of activity change with learning and behavioral context.

Circuit mechanisms for perceptual learning: Little is known about the cell types and microcircuits of the avian auditory forebrain. Using slice and in vivo intracellular recordings, we are characterizing physiological responses, connectivity, and gene expression profiles. The goals are to develop models of systems-level processing in this area and to better understand evolutionary and functional similarities to homologous regions of the mammalian auditory cortex.

Selected Publications

  • Keen S, Meliza C, Rubenstein D. Flight calls signal group and individual identity but not kinship in a cooperatively breeding bird. Behavioral ecology : official journal of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology. 2013;24(6): 1279-1285. PMID: 24137044
  • Meliza C, Keen S, Rubenstein D. Pitch- and spectral-based dynamic time warping methods for comparing field recordings of harmonic avian vocalizations. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 2013;134(2): 1407-15. PMID: 23927136
  • Adret P, Meliza C, Margoliash D. Song tutoring in presinging zebra finch juveniles biases a small population of higher-order song-selective neurons toward the tutor song. Journal of neurophysiology. 2012;108(7): 1977-87. PMID: 22786956
  • Kostuk M, Toth B, Meliza C, Margoliash D, Abarbanel H. Dynamical estimation of neuron and network properties II: Path integral Monte Carlo methods. Biological cybernetics. 2012;106(3): 155-67. PMID: 22526358
  • Meliza C, Margoliash D. Emergence of selectivity and tolerance in the avian auditory cortex. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 2012;32(43): 15158-68. PMID: 23100437
  • Effects of auditory recognition learning on the perception of vocal features in European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 2011;130(5): 3115-23. PMID: 22087940
  • Toth B, Kostuk M, Meliza C, Margoliash D, Abarbanel H. Dynamical estimation of neuron and network properties I: variational methods. Biological cybernetics. 2011;105(3): 217-37. PMID: 21986979
  • Meliza C, Chi Z, Margoliash D. Representations of conspecific song by starling secondary forebrain auditory neurons: toward a hierarchical framework. Journal of neurophysiology. 2009;103(3): 1195-208. PMID: 20032245
  • Meliza C, Dan Y. Receptive-field modification in rat visual cortex induced by paired visual stimulation and single-cell spiking. Neuron. 2006;49(2): 183-9. PMID: 16423693