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Image: Samuel J Sober, Emory University
Patterns of action potentials, or spikes, in neurons (voltage traces, top) control skilled behaviors, such as the fine motor behavior during vocalization by song birds. The presence of a spike is represented with a one and an absence with a zero, transforming the measured neural activity into a sequence of bits, a message sent by the brain to the motor system (middle). Decoding these messages shows that the precise timing of spikes is crucial in controlling the elaborate vocal patterns in bird songs that have fascinated human listeners for centuries.