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J Neurophysiol. 2009 Jun;101(6):3235-45. doi: 10.1152/jn.91089.2008. Epub 2009 Apr 8.

An avian basal ganglia-forebrain circuit contributes differentially to syllable versus sequence variability of adult Bengalese finch song.

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Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0444, USA.


Behavioral variability is important for motor skill learning but continues to be present and actively regulated even in well-learned behaviors. In adult songbirds, two types of song variability can persist and are modulated by social context: variability in syllable structure and variability in syllable sequencing. The degree to which the control of both types of adult variability is shared or distinct remains unknown. The output of a basal ganglia-forebrain circuit, LMAN (the lateral magnocellular nucleus of the anterior nidopallium), has been implicated in song variability. For example, in adult zebra finches, neurons in LMAN actively control the variability of syllable structure. It is unclear, however, whether LMAN contributes to variability in adult syllable sequencing because sequence variability in adult zebra finch song is minimal. In contrast, Bengalese finches retain variability in both syllable structure and syllable sequencing into adulthood. We analyzed the effects of LMAN lesions on the variability of syllable structure and sequencing and on the social modulation of these forms of variability in adult Bengalese finches. We found that lesions of LMAN significantly reduced the variability of syllable structure but not of syllable sequencing. We also found that LMAN lesions eliminated the social modulation of the variability of syllable structure but did not detect significant effects on the modulation of sequence variability. These results show that LMAN contributes differentially to syllable versus sequence variability of adult song and suggest that these forms of variability are regulated by distinct neural pathways.

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