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J Neurobiol. 1995 May;27(1):76-84.

Early isolation from conspecific song does not affect the normal developmental decline of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor binding in an avian song nucleus.

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  • 1Neuroscience Program, University of Rochester, New York 14627, USA.


Early effects of experience on synaptic reorganization and behavior often involve activation of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. We have begun to explore the role of this glutamate-receptor subtype in the development of learned birdsong. Song learning in zebra finches occurs during a restricted period that coincides with extensive synaptic reorganization within neural regions controlling song behavior. In one brain region necessary for song learning, the lateral magnocellular nucleus of the anterior neostriatum (IMAN), NMDA receptor binding is twice as high at the onset of song learning as in adulthood. In the present study, we used quantitative autoradiography with the noncompetitive NMDA antagonist [3H]MK-801 to examine more closely the developmental decline in NMDA receptor binding within IMAN and found that it occurred gradually over the period of song learning and was not associated with a particular stage of the learning process. In addition, early isolation from conspecific song did not affect [3H]MK-801 binding in IMAN at 30, 60, or 80 days. Since behavioral studies confirmed that our isolate rearing conditions extended the sensitive period for song learning, we conclude that the normal developmental decline in overall NMDA receptor binding within IMAN does not terminate the capacity for song learning. Finally, early deafening, which prevents both stages of song learning, also did not affect [3H]MK-801 binding in IMAN at 80 days, indicating that the decline in NMDA receptor binding occurs in the absence of auditory experiences associated with song development.

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