A striking feature of the nervous system is that it shows extensive plasticity of structure and function that allows animals to adjust to changes in their environment. Neural activity plays a key role in mediating experience-dependent neural plasticity and, thus, creates a link between the external environment, the nervous system, and behavior. One dramatic example of neural plasticity is ongoing neurogenesis in the adult brain. The role of neural activity in modulating neuronal addition, however, has not been well studied at the level of neural circuits. The avian song control system allows us to investigate how activity influences neuronal addition to a neural circuit that regulates song, a learned sensorimotor social behavior. In adult white-crowned sparrows, new neurons are added continually to the song nucleus HVC (proper name) and project their axons to its target nucleus, the robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA). We report here that electrical activity in RA regulates neuronal addition to HVC. Decreasing neural activity in RA by intracerebral infusion of the GABAA receptor agonist muscimol decreased the number of new HVC neurons by 56%. Our results suggest that postsynaptic electrical activity influences the addition of new neurons into a functional neural circuit in adult birds.
Keywords: birdsong; songbird; testosterone.