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J Neurosci. 2001 Apr 1;21(7):2501-17.

Postlearning consolidation of birdsong: stabilizing effects of age and anterior forebrain lesions.

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  • 1Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience, Department of Physiology, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94143-0444, USA. msb@phy.ucsf.edu


Birdsong is a learned, sequenced motor skill. For the zebra finch, learned song normally remains unchanging beyond early adulthood. However, stable adult song will gradually deteriorate after deafening (Nordeen and Nordeen, 1992), indicating an ongoing influence of auditory feedback on learned song. This plasticity of adult song in response to deafening gradually declines with age (Lombardino and Nottebohm, 2000), suggesting that, after song learning, there continue to be changes in the brain that progressively stabilize the song motor program. A qualitatively similar stabilization of learned song can be precipitated artificially by lesions of a basal ganglia circuit in the songbird anterior forebrain (Brainard and Doupe, 2000), raising the question of whether and how these two forms of song stabilization are related. We investigated this issue by characterizing the deterioration of song that occurs after deafening in young adult birds and the degree to which that deterioration is reduced by age or by lesions of the anterior forebrain that were directed at the lateral portion of the magnocellular nucleus of the anterior neostriatum (LMAN). In most respects, LMAN lesions stabilized song to a significantly greater extent than did aging; whereas old-deafened birds eventually exhibited significant deterioration of song, lesioned-deafened birds generally did not differ from controls. The one exception was for song tempo, which was significantly stabilized by age, but not by LMAN lesions. The results indicate that LMAN lesions do not simply mimic a normal aging process, and likewise suggest that the anterior forebrain pathway continues to play a role even in the residual song plasticity that is observed after the age-dependent stabilization of song.

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