Mutations in the gene encoding the transcription factor FoxP2 impair human speech and language. We have previously shown that deficits in vocal learning occur in zebra finches after reduction of FoxP2 in Area X, a striatal nucleus involved in song acquisition. We recently showed that FoxP2 is expressed in newly generated spiny neurons (SN) in adult Area X as well as in the ventricular zone (VZ) from which the SN originates. Moreover, their recruitment to Area X increases transiently during the song learning phase. The present report therefore investigated whether FoxP2 is involved in the structural plasticity of Area X. We assessed the proliferation, differentiation and morphology of SN after lentivirally mediated knockdown of FoxP2 in Area X or in the VZ during the song learning phase. Proliferation rate was not significantly affected by knockdown of FoxP2 in the VZ. In addition, FoxP2 reduction both in the VZ and in Area X did not affect the number of new neurons in Area X. However, at the fine-structural level, SN in Area X bore fewer spines after FoxP2 knockdown. This effect was even more pronounced when neurons received the knockdown before differentiation, i.e. as neuroblasts in the VZ. These results suggest that FoxP2 might directly or indirectly regulate spine dynamics in Area X and thereby influence song plasticity. Together, these data present the first evidence for a role of FoxP2 in the structural plasticity of dendritic spines and complement the emerging evidence of physiological synaptic plasticity in FoxP2 mouse models.
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