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Learn Mem. 2009 Oct 22;16(11):655-69. doi: 10.1101/lm.1065209. Print 2009 Nov.

Neural mechanisms for learned birdsong.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


Learning by imitation is essential for transmitting many aspects of human culture, including speech, language, art, and music. How the human brain enables imitation remains a mystery, but the underlying neural mechanisms must harness sensory feedback to adaptively modify performance in reference to the object of imitation. Although examples of imitative learning in nonhuman animals are relatively rare, juvenile songbirds learn to sing by copying the song of an adult tutor. The delineation of neural circuits for birdsong raises the promise that this complex form of vocal learning, which bears strong parallels to human speech learning, can be understood in terms of underlying neural mechanisms. This promise is now being more fully realized, with recent experimental advances leading to better understanding of the central motor codes for song and the central mechanisms by which auditory experience modifies song motor commands to enable vocal learning.

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