Research Article

A Specialized Forebrain Circuit for Vocal Babbling in the Juvenile Songbird

Science  02 May 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5876, pp. 630-634
DOI: 10.1126/science.1155140

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Abstract

Young animals engage in variable exploratory behaviors essential for the development of neural circuitry and adult motor control, yet the neural basis of these behaviors is largely unknown. Juvenile songbirds produce subsong—a succession of primitive vocalizations akin to human babbling. We found that subsong production in zebra finches does not require HVC (high vocal center), a key premotor area for singing in adult birds, but does require LMAN (lateral magnocellular nucleus of the nidopallium), a forebrain nucleus involved in learning but not in adult singing. During babbling, neurons in LMAN exhibited premotor correlations to vocal output on a fast time scale. Thus, juvenile singing is driven by a circuit distinct from that which produces the adult behavior—a separation possibly general to other developing motor systems.

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