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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Oct 24;97(22):11836-42.

Song selectivity and sensorimotor signals in vocal learning and production.

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Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


Bird song, like human speech, is a learned vocal behavior that requires auditory feedback. Both as juveniles, while they learn to sing, and as adults, songbirds use auditory feedback to compare their own vocalizations with an internal model of a target song. Here we describe experiments that explore a role for the songbird anterior forebrain pathway (AFP), a basal ganglia-forebrain circuit, in evaluating song feedback and modifying vocal output. First, neural recordings in anesthetized, juvenile birds show that single AFP neurons are specialized to process the song stimuli that are compared during sensorimotor learning. AFP neurons are tuned to both the bird's own song and the tutor song, even when these stimuli are manipulated to be very different from each other. Second, behavioral experiments in adult birds demonstrate that lesions to the AFP block the deterioration of song that normally follows deafening. This observation suggests that deafening results in an instructive signal, indicating a mismatch between feedback and the internal song model, and that the AFP is involved in generating or transmitting this instructive signal. Finally, neural recordings from behaving birds reveal robust singing-related activity in the AFP. This activity is likely to originate from premotor areas and could be modulated by auditory feedback of the bird's own voice. One possibility is that this activity represents an efference copy, predicting the sensory consequences of motor commands. Overall, these studies illustrate that sensory and motor processes are highly interrelated in this circuit devoted to vocal learning, as is true for brain areas involved in speech.

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