Rudimentary substrates for vocal learning in a suboscine

Nat Commun. 2013:4:2082. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3082.


Vocal learning has evolved in only a few groups of mammals and birds. The key neuroanatomical and behavioural links bridging vocal learners and non-learners are still unknown. Here we show that a non-vocal-learning suboscine, the eastern phoebe, expresses neural and behavioural substrates that are associated with vocal learning in closely related oscine songbirds. In phoebes, a specialized forebrain region in the intermediate arcopallium seems homologous to the oscine song nucleus RA (robust nucleus of arcopallium) by its neural connections, expression of glutamate receptors and singing-dependent immediate-early gene expression. Lesion of this RA-like region induces subtle but consistent song changes. Moreover, the unlearned phoebe song unexpectedly develops through a protracted ontogeny. These features provide the first evidence of forebrain vocal-motor control in suboscines, which has not been encountered in other avian non-vocal-learners, and offer a potential configuration of brain and behaviour from which vocal learning might have evolved.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avian Proteins / genetics*
  • Avian Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Passeriformes / anatomy & histology
  • Passeriformes / physiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Prosencephalon / anatomy & histology
  • Prosencephalon / physiology*
  • Receptors, AMPA / genetics*
  • Receptors, AMPA / metabolism
  • Receptors, Kainic Acid / genetics
  • Receptors, Kainic Acid / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Avian Proteins
  • Gluk1 kainate receptor
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Receptors, AMPA
  • Receptors, Kainic Acid
  • Transcription Factors
  • glutamate receptor ionotropic, AMPA 1