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J Neurophysiol. 2008 Oct;100(4):2015-25. doi: 10.1152/jn.90415.2008. Epub 2008 Aug 13.

Birdsong decreases protein levels of FoxP2, a molecule required for human speech.

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  • 1Department of Physiological Science, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


Cognitive and motor deficits associated with language and speech are seen in humans harboring FOXP2 mutations. The neural bases for FOXP2 mutation-related deficits are thought to reside in structural abnormalities distributed across systems important for language and motor learning including the cerebral cortex, basal ganglia, and cerebellum. In these brain regions, our prior research showed that FoxP2 mRNA expression patterns are strikingly similar between developing humans and songbirds. Within the songbird brain, this pattern persists throughout life and includes the striatal subregion, Area X, that is dedicated to song development and maintenance. The persistent mRNA expression suggests a role for FoxP2 that extends beyond the formation of vocal learning circuits to their ongoing use. Because FoxP2 is a transcription factor, a role in shaping circuits likely depends on FoxP2 protein levels which might not always parallel mRNA levels. Indeed our current study shows that FoxP2 protein, like its mRNA, is acutely downregulated in mature Area X when adult males sing with some differences. Total corticosterone levels associated with the different behavioral contexts did not vary, indicating that differences in FoxP2 levels are not likely attributable to stress. Our data, together with recent reports on FoxP2's target genes, suggest that lowered FoxP2 levels may allow for expression of genes important for circuit modification and thus vocal variability.

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