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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 1996 Nov;66(3):295-304.

Blockade of NMDA receptors in the anterior forebrain impairs sensory acquisition in the zebra finch (Poephila guttata).

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Neuroscience Program, University of Rochester, New York 14627, USA.


Juvenile zebra finches (Poephila guttata) learn song in two stages: during sensory acquisition, they memorize the song of an adult tutor, and during sensorimotor learning, they alter their vocalizations to match the stored song model. Like many other forms of neural plasticity and memory formation, vocal learning in zebra finches is impaired by pharmacological blockade of NMDA receptors, but the relevant NMDA receptors have not yet been localized. During song development, one neural region that has been implicated specifically in song learning, the IMAN, exhibits an increased density of NMDA receptors as well as decreased binding affinity for the NMDA antagonist MK-801. To test the hypothesis that sensory acquisition requires activation of NMDA receptors in or near the IMAN we infused the NMDA receptor antagonist amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid (AP5; 2.5 micrograms 0.1 microliter) directly into the anterior forebrain. Birds receiving AP5 infusions prior to each of 10 tutoring sessions copied significantly less of their tutor's song than did sham-operated birds, saline-infused birds, birds that received AP5 infusions on nontutoring days, or birds that received AP5 infusions into the cerebellum. Furthermore, infusions of AP5 in the anterior forebrain did not impair young birds' ability to discriminate zebra finch from canary song. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that NMDA receptor activation in the anterior forebrain is necessary for the memorization of song material during avian vocal learning. This is also the first report that song-related regions of the anterior forebrain contribute to sensory acquisition specifically.

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