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Super song learners
Date:10/23/2013

This news release is available in German.

Most songbirds learn their songs from an adult model, mostly from the father. However, there are relatively large differences in the accuracy how these songs are copied. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen now found in juvenile zebra finches a possible mechanism that is responsible for the differences in the intensity of song learning. They provided the nerve growth factor "BDNF" to the song control system in the brain. With this treatment the learning ability in juvenile males could be enhanced in such a way that they were able to copy the songs of the father as good as it had been observed in the best learners in a zebra finch nest.

The improvement of cognitive abilities plays an important role in the therapy of neurological and psychiatric diseases. In this context research focusses more and more on the protein BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). BDNF is mainly responsible for the preservation, growth and differentiation of nerve cells.

Moreover, from experiments in mice it is known that BDNF enhances the ability to solve complex cognitive tasks.

In a learning experiment with zebra finches, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen in collaboration with scientists from the Free University of Amsterdam could now show for the first time in songbirds that BDNF acts as cognitive enhancer. They investigated zebra finch brother pairs that grew up with their genetic parents. In this setup juvenile birds will readily learn the songs from their fathers. However there are differences in the intensity of song learning among siblings of the same age. The worst learners have only a similarity of 20% with their fathers' songs, whereas the best learners cop
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Contact: Dr. Falk Dittrich
dittrich@orn.mpg.de
49-815-793-2272
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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