Computational benefits of structural plasticity, illustrated in songbirds

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2022 Jan:132:1183-1196. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2021.10.033. Epub 2021 Nov 18.


The plasticity of nervous systems allows animals to quickly adapt to a changing environment. In particular, the structural plasticity of brain networks is often critical to the development of the central nervous system and the acquisition of complex behaviors. As an example, structural plasticity is central to the development of song-related brain circuits and may be critical for song acquisition in juvenile songbirds. Here, we review current evidences for structural plasticity and their significance from a computational point of view. We start by reviewing evidence for structural plasticity across species and categorizing them along the spatial axes as well as the along the time course during development. We introduce the vocal learning circuitry in zebra finches, as a useful example of structural plasticity, and use this specific case to explore the possible contributions of structural plasticity to computational models. Finally, we discuss current modeling studies incorporating structural plasticity and unexplored questions which are raised by such models.

Keywords: Computational neuroscience; Sensorimotor learning; Songbirds; Structural plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Finches* / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Songbirds* / physiology
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology