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J Neurosci. 2006 Jul 12;26(28):7390-4.

FoxP2 regulation during undirected singing in adult songbirds.

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  • 1Interdepartmental Programs in Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Physiology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.


Learned vocal communication, including human speech, is a socially influenced behavior limited to certain animals. This ability requires auditory feedback during vocalization, which allows for on-line evaluation, to achieve the desired vocal output. To date, FOXP2 (forkhead box P2), a transcriptional repressor, is the only molecule directly linked to human speech. Identified FOXP2 mutations cause orofacial dyspraxia accompanied by abnormalities in corticostriatal circuitry controlling voluntary orofacial movements. These observations implicate FOXP2 in the developmental formation of neural circuits used in speech, but whether FOXP2 additionally plays an active role in mature circuitry was unknown. To address this question, we use a songbird, the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), whose learned song and underlying circuitry are well characterized. We show that, when adult males sing, FoxP2 mRNA is acutely downregulated within area X, the specific region of the songbird striatum dedicated to song. Furthermore, we find downregulation in males that sing by themselves (undirected singers) but not in males that sing to females (directed singers). This FoxP2 downregulation cannot be a simple consequence of the motor act because birds sang in both directed and undirected contexts. Our data suggest that FoxP2 is important not only for the formation but also for the function of vocal control circuitry. Social context-dependent, acute changes in FoxP2 within the basal ganglia of adult songbirds also suggest, by analogy, that the core deficits of affected humans extend beyond development and beyond basic central motor control.

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