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J Neurophysiol. 2011 Jun;105(6):2729-39. doi: 10.1152/jn.00823.2010. Epub 2011 Mar 23.

Vocal babbling in songbirds requires the basal ganglia-recipient motor thalamus but not the basal ganglia.

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McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Young songbirds produce vocal "babbling," and the variability of their songs is thought to underlie a process of trial-and-error vocal learning. It is known that this exploratory variability requires the "cortical" component of a basal ganglia (BG) thalamocortical loop, but less understood is the role of the BG and thalamic components in this behavior. We found that large bilateral lesions to the songbird BG homolog Area X had little or no effect on song variability during vocal babbling. In contrast, lesions to the BG-recipient thalamic nucleus DLM (medial portion of the dorsolateral thalamus) largely abolished normal vocal babbling in young birds and caused a dramatic increase in song stereotypy. These findings support the idea that the motor thalamus plays a key role in the expression of exploratory juvenile behaviors during learning.

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