Brains are optimized for processing ethologically relevant sensory signals. However, few studies have characterized the neural coding mechanisms that underlie the transformation from natural sensory information to behavior. Here, we focus on acoustic communication in Drosophila melanogaster and use computational modeling to link natural courtship song, neuronal codes, and female behavioral responses to song. We show that melanogaster females are sensitive to long timescale song structure (on the order of tens of seconds). From intracellular recordings, we generate models that recapitulate neural responses to acoustic stimuli. We link these neural codes with female behavior by generating model neural responses to natural courtship song. Using a simple decoder, we predict female behavioral responses to the same song stimuli with high accuracy. Our modeling approach reveals how long timescale song features are represented by the Drosophila brain and how neural representations can be decoded to generate behavioral selectivity for acoustic communication signals. Clemens et al. study neural representations of courtship song in the Drosophila auditory system. By combining neural recordings, behavioral assays, and modeling, they show that females integrate song information and propose simple computations for predicting female behavior from single neuron responses.
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