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J Neurosci. 2002 May 1;22(9):3776-87.

A telencephalic nucleus essential for song learning contains neurons with physiological characteristics of both striatum and globus pallidus.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.


The song system of oscine birds has frequently been presented as a model system for motor learning in vertebrates. This practice has been bolstered by the growing recognition that one part of the song system that is essential for song learning, area X, is a component of the avian striatum. The mammalian striatum, the input structure of the basal ganglia, has been implicated in a number of motor-related functions, including motor learning, suggesting that song learning in birds and motor learning in mammals may use similar physiological mechanisms. We studied the intrinsic physiological properties of area X neurons in brain slices to see how closely they match properties identified in mammalian striatal neurons and to collect data that are necessary to understand how area X processes information. We found that area X contains all four physiological cell types present in the mammalian striatum and that each is very similar to its mammalian counterpart. We also found a fifth cell type in area X that has not been reported in mammalian striatum; instead, this cell type resembles neurons that have been recorded in the mammalian globus pallidus. This pallidum-like cell type morphologically resembles the projection neurons of area X. We suggest that area X contains a pathway equivalent to the "direct" striatopallidothalamic pathway through the mammalian basal ganglia, with the striatal and pallidal components intermingled in one nucleus.

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