Functional identification of sensory mechanisms required for developmental song learning

Nat Neurosci. 2008 May;11(5):579-86. doi: 10.1038/nn.2103. Epub 2008 Apr 6.


A young male zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) learns to sing by copying the vocalizations of an older tutor in a process that parallels human speech acquisition. Brain pathways that control song production are well defined, but little is known about the sites and mechanisms of tutor song memorization. Here we test the hypothesis that molecular signaling in a sensory brain area outside of the song system is required for developmental song learning. Using controlled tutoring and a pharmacological inhibitor, we transiently suppressed the extracellular signal-regulated kinase signaling pathway in a portion of the auditory forebrain specifically during tutor song exposure. On maturation, treated birds produced poor copies of tutor song, whereas controls copied the tutor song effectively. Thus the foundation of normal song learning, the formation of a sensory memory of tutor song, requires a conserved molecular pathway in a brain area that is distinct from the circuit for song motor control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Auditory Cortex / drug effects
  • Auditory Cortex / enzymology
  • Auditory Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Auditory Pathways / drug effects
  • Auditory Pathways / enzymology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism*
  • Finches / anatomy & histology
  • Finches / physiology*
  • High Vocal Center / anatomy & histology
  • High Vocal Center / drug effects
  • High Vocal Center / enzymology
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Learning / physiology*
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / drug effects
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / physiology
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Prosencephalon / anatomy & histology
  • Prosencephalon / drug effects
  • Prosencephalon / enzymology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / drug effects
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases