Acute injections of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in a vocal premotor nucleus reversibly disrupt adult birdsong stability and trigger syllable deletion

J Neurobiol. 2005 Mar;62(4):406-24. doi: 10.1002/neu.20109.


Behavioral variability serves an essential role in motor learning by enabling sensory feedback to select those motor patterns that minimize error. Birds use auditory feedback to learn how to sing, and their songs lose variability and become highly stereotyped, or crystallized, at the end of a sensitive period for sensorimotor learning. The molecular cues that regulate song variability are not well understood. In other systems, neurotrophins, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in particular, can mediate various forms of neural plasticity, including sensitive period neural circuit plasticity and activity-dependent synapse formation, and may also influence learning and memory. Here, we have tested the hypothesis that neurotrophin expression in the robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA), the telencephalic output controlling song, regulates song variability. BDNF and its receptor trkB are expressed in RA, and BDNF expression in RA appears to be highest in juveniles, when song is most variable and plastic, and synapse density highest. Thus, song variability and synaptic connectivity could be enhanced by augmented expression of BDNF in RA. In support of this idea, we found that BDNF injections into the adult RA induced the re-expression of juvenile-like phenotypes, including song variability and an increased synaptic density in RA. Furthermore, BDNF treatment also induced vocal plasticity, characterized by syllable deletions and persistent changes to the song patterns. These results suggest that endogenous BDNF could be a molecular regulator of the song variability essential to vocal plasticity and, ultimately, to song learning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / administration & dosage*
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Finches / physiology*
  • Injections, Intraventricular
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Telencephalon / drug effects*
  • Telencephalon / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Vocalization, Animal / drug effects*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor