Birdsong memory: a neural dissociation between song recognition and production

Curr Biol. 2007 May 1;17(9):789-93. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.03.059. Epub 2007 Apr 12.


Songbirds learn their song from an adult conspecific tutor when they are young, much like the acquisition of speech in human infants. When an adult zebra finch is re-exposed to its tutor's song, there is increased neuronal activation in the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM), the songbird equivalent of the auditory association cortex. This neuronal activation is related to the fidelity of song imitation, suggesting that the NCM may contain the neural representation of song memory. We found that bilateral neurotoxic lesions to the NCM of adult male zebra finches impaired tutor-song recognition but did not affect the males' song production or their ability to discriminate calls. These findings demonstrate that the NCM performs an essential role in the representation of tutor-song memory. In addition, our results show that tutor-song memory and a motor program for the bird's own song have separate neural representations in the songbird brain. Thus, in both humans and songbirds, the cognitive systems of vocal production and auditory recognition memory are subserved by distinct brain regions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / pathology
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Finches / physiology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Physiological / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*