Stable Sequential Activity Underlying the Maintenance of a Precisely Executed Skilled Behavior

Neuron. 2018 Jun 27;98(6):1133-1140.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.05.017. Epub 2018 May 31.


A vast array of motor skills can be maintained throughout life. Do these behaviors require stability of individual neuron tuning or can the output of a given circuit remain constant despite fluctuations in single cells? This question is difficult to address due to the variability inherent in most motor actions studied in the laboratory. A notable exception, however, is the courtship song of the adult zebra finch, which is a learned, highly precise motor act mediated by orderly dynamics within premotor neurons of the forebrain. By longitudinally tracking the activity of excitatory projection neurons during singing using two-photon calcium imaging, we find that both the number and the precise timing of song-related spiking events remain nearly identical over the span of several weeks to months. These findings demonstrate that learned, complex behaviors can be stabilized by maintaining precise and invariant tuning at the level of single neurons.

Keywords: birdsong; calcium imaging; motor control; two-photon; zebra finch.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Courtship*
  • Finches
  • Interneurons
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / cytology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Optical Imaging
  • Prosencephalon / cytology
  • Prosencephalon / physiology
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*