Long-range inhibition within the zebra finch song nucleus RA can coordinate the firing of multiple projection neurons

J Neurophysiol. 1999 Jun;81(6):3007-20. doi: 10.1152/jn.1999.81.6.3007.


The zebra finch forebrain song control nucleus RA (robust nucleus of the archistriatum) generates a phasic and temporally precise neural signal that drives vocal and respiratory motoneurons during singing. RA's output during singing predicts individual notes, even though afferent drive to RA from the song nucleus HVc is more tonic, and predicts song syllables, independent of the particular notes that comprise the syllable. Therefore RA's intrinsic circuitry transforms neural activity from HVc into a highly precise premotor output. To understand how RA's intrinsic circuitry effects this transformation, we characterized RA interneurons and projection neurons using intracellular recordings in brain slices. RA interneurons fired fast action potentials with steep current-frequency relationships and had small somata with thin aspinous processes that extended throughout large portions of the nucleus; the similarity of their fine processes to those labeled with a glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) antibody strongly suggests that these interneurons are GABAergic. Electrical stimulation revealed that RA interneurons receive excitatory inputs from RA's afferents, the lateral magnocellular nucleus of the anterior neostriatum (LMAN) and HVc, and from local axon collaterals of RA projection neurons. To map the functional connections that RA interneurons make onto RA projection neurons, we focally uncaged glutamate, revealing long-range inhibitory connections in RA. Thus these interneurons provide fast feed-forward and feedback inhibition to RA projection neurons and could help create the phasic pattern of bursts and pauses that characterizes RA output during singing. Furthermore, selectively activating the inhibitory network phase locks the firing of otherwise unconnected pairs of projection neurons, suggesting that local inhibition could coordinate RA output during singing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / cytology
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Amygdala / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Interneurons / physiology
  • Interneurons / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid