miR-9 is an evolutionarily conserved miRNA that is abundantly expressed in Area X, a basal ganglia nucleus required for vocal learning in songbirds. Here, we report that overexpression of miR-9 in Area X of juvenile zebra finches impairs developmental vocal learning, resulting in a song with syllable omission, reduced similarity to the tutor song, and altered acoustic features. miR-9 overexpression in juveniles also leads to more variable song performance in adulthood, and abolishes social context-dependent modulation of song variability. We further show that these behavioral deficits are accompanied by downregulation of FoxP1 and FoxP2, genes that are known to be associated with language impairments, as well as by disruption of dopamine signaling and widespread changes in the expression of genes that are important in circuit development and functions. These findings demonstrate a vital role for miR-9 in basal ganglia function and vocal communication, suggesting that dysregulation of miR-9 in humans may contribute to language impairments and related neurodevelopmental disorders.
Keywords: FOXP1, FOXP2, dopamine; basal ganglia, Area X; miR-9; neuroscience; songbird, zebra finch; speech and language; vocal learning.
© 2018, Shi et al.