The Meliza Lab studies the neural mechanisms of auditory learning and perception for vocal communication. We primarily work in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Like many other songbirds, zebra finches live in large groups with dynamic social structures and use song to communicate individual identity, sexual fitness, and other social signals. They can learn to recognize hundreds of songs from different individuals in challenging acoustic conditions, so 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:

Experience-dependent plasticity

[intrinsic plasticity model]

A songbird's early experience hearing other members of its species shapes how its auditory system processes sound. This is analogous to the perceptual narrowing that occurs in humans during the first year of life, in which exposure to speech establishes the phonetic distinctions an infant is able to perceive. Deficits in this critical learning process may contribute to a wide range of communication disorders, including dyslexia. Using behavior, electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry, and gene-editing methods, we are investigating how the early acoustic environment influences the functional and physiological properties of cortical auditory circuits.

Internal models of auditory objects

[auditory restoration example]

Using behavioral and physiological methods, we examine how birds form internal models of vocal signals from experience, and how these models guide perception in the complex acoustic conditions animals encounter in natural social settings. Our goal is to identify how neural circuits create these models and employ them to reconstruct vocal signals that have been degraded by noise.

April 2024: Christof Fehrman, PhD

Christof Fehrman successfully defended his PhD dissertation, Data-driven approaches to model predictive control of neural systems. Christof's dissertation work took the lab in an exciting new direction, and we're excited about the methodological possibilities it opens up. Congrats Christof!

September 2023: Lu et al, J Neurosci

Rapid, activity-dependent intrinsic plasticity in the developing zebra finch auditory cortex, by Yao Lu, Francesca Sciaccotta, Leah Kiely, Ben Bellanger, Alev Erisir, and C Daniel Meliza, was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. This article was highlighted in the journal's weekly research spotlight, and was also featured on the College of Arts and Sciences news page!

April 2023: Taylor Byron, Postgraduate Scholarship — Doctoral

Taylor was awarded a graduate training scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for her project to study the role of KIAA0139 in the zebra finch auditory system. Congratulations Taylor!

March 2023: Taylor Byron and Jenna Stutzman, UVA Double Hoo Award

Taylor and Jenna received a Double Hoo award to investigate Kv1.1 expression in the auditory midbrain during development. Congratulations Taylor and Jenna!

July 2022: Yao Lu, UVA Presidential Fellowship for Collaborative Neuroscience

Yao was awarded a fellowship from the UVA Brain Institute to use calcium imaging to investigate population dynamics in the developing zebra finch brain.

April 2021: Margot Bjoring, PhD

Margot Bjoring successfully defended her PhD dissertation, Perception and neural representation of auditory restoration in the songbird. One of her committee members called it a "perfect dissertation", and we couldn't agree more. Congratulations Margot!

February 2021: Fehrman et al, PLoS Comp Biol

Nonlinear effects of intrinsic dynamics on temporal encoding in a model of avian auditory cortex, by Christof Fehrman, Tyler Robbins, and C Daniel Meliza, was published in PLoS Computational Biology.

April 2020: NIH R01

The lab was awarded an R01 from the NIDCD to examine mechanisms of intrinsic plasticity in early auditory learning!

February 2020: NSF CAREER Award

Dan received a Faculty Early Career Development grant from the National Science Foundation! This award will fund research into the neural mechanisms of auditory restoration, one of the ways the brain reconstructs speech in noisy situations, and will also support Dan's work to broaden participation in computational neuroscience. A special shout-out to Margot, who generated much of the preliminary data that supported this application. (Press: UVA A&S News ).

January 2020: Chen and Meliza, J Neurosci

Experience- and sex-dependent intrinsic plasticity in the zebra finch auditory cortex during song memorization, by Andrew Chen and C Daniel Meliza, was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

September 2019: Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship in Quantitative Neurobiology

Prospective grad students! The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia is accepting applications to join the first cohort of Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellows for enrollment in Fall 2020. This is a three-year, fully funded fellowship to pursue research into quantitative models of behavior and neural circuits. See this link for details. Interested students should apply to the Department of Pyschology PhD Program and submit an additional statement of interest within the application interface. Deadline is December 1!

April 2019: Hartwell Foundation Award

Dan received an Individual Biomedical Research Award from the Hartwell Foundation to use zebra finches as a model to improve early detection of auditory processing deficits. I'm recruiting a postdoc to work on this project, so check the opportunities page for details.

January 2019: Bjoring and Meliza, PLoS Comp Biol

A low-threshold potassium current enhances sparseness and reliability in a model of avian auditory cortex, by Margot Bjoring and C Daniel Meliza, was published in PLoS Computational Biology.

December 2018: Andrew Chen, PhD

Andrew Chen successfully defended his PhD dissertation, Intrinsic Physiology and Experience-Dependent Plasticity of the Zebra Finch Caudal Mesopallium. He will be joining the staff at the Society for Neuroscience.