How stable are neural activity patterns compared across periods of sleep? We evaluated this question in adult zebra finches, whose premotor neurons in the nucleus robustus arcopallialis (RA) exhibit sequences of bursts during daytime singing that are characterized by precise timing relative to song syllables. Each burst has a highly regulated pattern of spikes. We assessed these spike patterns in singing that occurred before and after periods of sleep. For about half of the neurons, one or more premotor bursts had changed after sleep, an average of 20% of all bursts across all RA neurons. After sleep, modified bursts were characterized by a discrete, albeit modest, loss of spikes with compensatory increases in spike intervals, but not changes in timing relative to the syllable. Changes in burst structure followed both interrupted bouts of sleep (1.5-3 h) and full nights of sleep, implicating sleep and not circadian cycle as mediating these effects. Changes in burst structure were also observed during the day, but far less frequently. In cases where multiple bursts in the sequence changed in a single cell, the sequence position of those bursts tended to cluster together. Bursts that did not show discrete changes in structure also showed changes in spike counts, but not biased toward losses. We hypothesize that changes in burst patterns during sleep represent active sculpting of the RA network, supporting auditory feedback-mediated song maintenance.
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