Anatomical traces of juvenile learning in the auditory system of adult barn owls

Nat Neurosci. 2005 Jan;8(1):93-8. doi: 10.1038/nn1367. Epub 2004 Dec 19.


Early experience plays a powerful role in shaping adult neural circuitry and behavior. In barn owls, early experience markedly influences sound localization. Juvenile owls that learn new, abnormal associations between auditory cues and locations in visual space as a result of abnormal visual experience can readapt to the same abnormal experience in adulthood, when plasticity is otherwise limited. Here we show that abnormal anatomical projections acquired during early abnormal sensory experience persist long after normal experience has been restored. These persistent projections are perfectly situated to provide a physical framework for subsequent readaptation in adulthood to the abnormal sensory conditions experienced in early life. Our results show that anatomical changes that support strong learned neural connections early in life can persist even after they are no longer functionally expressed. This maintenance of silenced neural circuitry that was once adaptive may represent an important mechanism by which the brain preserves a record of early experience.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Auditory Pathways / growth & development*
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Auditory Pathways / ultrastructure
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cues
  • Ear / physiology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Eyeglasses
  • Hearing
  • Inferior Colliculi / growth & development
  • Learning*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Sound Localization*
  • Strigiformes / growth & development*
  • Superior Colliculi / growth & development
  • Synaptic Transmission
  • Time Factors