Songbirds are increasingly used as an experimentally tractable system to study the neurobiological underpinnings of vocal learning. To gain additional insights into how birdsongs are learned, we compared the size of HVC, the high vocal center for song production, and its ultrastructural or electrophysiological properties between the normally reared Bengalese finches, and the untutored or deafened ones before the onset of sensory learning (around post-hatching day 20). Our results showed that HVC had more synapses and concave synaptic curvature, but fewer perforated synapse, in the untutored or deafened birds in comparison with those in the normally reared birds. Although there was no significant difference of the ratio of straight or compound synapses, there was an increasing tendency for the untutored and deafened birds to possess more straight and compound synapses. These data revealed that synapses in the isolated or deafened birds had lower synapse activity in relation to those with normal hearing. This was confirmed by our electrophysiological results to show significant decreases in the firing rates of spike or burst in the isolated or deafened birds in the three types of HVC neurons i.e., putative X-projecting neurons, RA-projecting neurons and interneurons. In addition, low firing frequency (<10Hz) occurred much more in the above three types of HVC neurons in the tutored or deafened birds than in the normally reared birds. These data suggest that all the three putative types of neurons in HVC might be involved in the activity of the production of adult normal songs.
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