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Nat Neurosci. 2008 May;11(5):579-86. doi: 10.1038/nn.2103. Epub 2008 Apr 6.

Functional identification of sensory mechanisms required for developmental song learning.

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Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2500N IGB, MC-195, 1206 West Gregory Drive, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA.


A young male zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) learns to sing by copying the vocalizations of an older tutor in a process that parallels human speech acquisition. Brain pathways that control song production are well defined, but little is known about the sites and mechanisms of tutor song memorization. Here we test the hypothesis that molecular signaling in a sensory brain area outside of the song system is required for developmental song learning. Using controlled tutoring and a pharmacological inhibitor, we transiently suppressed the extracellular signal-regulated kinase signaling pathway in a portion of the auditory forebrain specifically during tutor song exposure. On maturation, treated birds produced poor copies of tutor song, whereas controls copied the tutor song effectively. Thus the foundation of normal song learning, the formation of a sensory memory of tutor song, requires a conserved molecular pathway in a brain area that is distinct from the circuit for song motor control.

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