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Songbirds' learning hub in brain offers insight into motor control
Date:5/20/2012

To learn its signature melody, the male songbird uses a trial-and-error process to mimic the song of its father, singing the tune over and over again, hundreds of times a day, making subtle changes in the pitch of the notes. For the male Bengalese finch, this rigorous training process begins around the age of 40 days and is completed about day 90, just as he becomes sexually mature and ready to use his song to woo females.

To accomplish this feat, the finch's brain must receive and process large quantities of information about its performance and use that data to precisely control the complex vocal actions that allow it to modify the pitch and pattern of its song.

Now, scientists at UCSF have shown that a key brain structure acts as a learning hub, receiving information from other regions of the brain and figuring out how to use that information to improve its song, even when it's not directly controlling the action. These insights may help scientists figure out new ways to treat neurological disorders that impair movement such as Huntington's disease and Parkinson's disease.

The research is reported as an advanced online publication on May 20, 2012 by the journal Nature, and will appear at a later date in the journal's print edition.

Years of research conducted in the lab of Michael Brainard, PhD, an associate professor of physiology at UCSF, has shown that adult finches can keep track of slight differences in the individual "syllables," or notes, they play and hear, and make mental computations that allow them to alter the pitch.

For previous experiments, Brainard and his colleagues developed a training process that induced adult finches to calibrate their song. They created a computer program that could recognize the pitch of every syllable the bird sang. The computer also delivered a sound the birds didn't likea kind of white noiseat the very moment they uttered a specific note. Within a few hours, th
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Contact: Jennifer O'Brien
jennifer.obrien@ucsf.edu
415-502-6397
University of California - San Francisco
Source:Eurekalert

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