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J Neurobiol. 1997 Nov;33(5):549-71.

Role of gene regulation in song circuit development and song learning.

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Department of Cell and Structural Biology, Beckman Institute, University of Illinois, Urbana 61801, USA.


The songbird has emerged as an important model for study of brain-behavior relationships by virtue of its rich natural advantages and from the pioneering efforts of explorers using anatomical and behavioral approaches. Now, molecular biology is providing a new and complementary paradigm for discerning songbird brain organization and function. Here, I review the work over the last 10 years that has laid the foundation for approaching songbird biology from the molecular perspective. As a result of this work, specific hypotheses can now be framed and tested regarding the mechanisms behind song circuit formation, behavioral plasticity, and the boundaries of adaptability. Age-related changes in more than 15 molecules have been observed in the song system of juvenile zebra finches, and these changes seem to define specific phases in circuit development. In adult songbirds, ordinary song-related activities such as singing and listening cause dramatic increases in gene expression in brain areas specific to each activity. The sensitivity of gene activation is modulated as a result of experience in adulthood and also changes during juvenile song learning. These studies have provided unexpected insights into the functional organization of the song circuit and the potential role of extrinsic modulatory systems in directing and limiting plastic change in the brain. With this rich base of knowledge, and techniques of gene manipulation on the horizon, answers to old questions seem within our reach: What sets the boundaries of neural plasticity? What limits learning?

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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