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What songbirds tell us about how we learn
Date:4/8/2014

ay be important in motor learning across species is through its involvement in generating variability."

The researchers studied song birds because they have a cortical-basal ganglia circuit that is specific for singing. In contrast, for most behaviors in other species, the cortical-basal ganglia cells and circuits that are important for particular behaviors, like learning to walk, may be situated right next to, or even intermingled with cells and circuits important for other behaviors. "The evolution in songbirds of an identifiable circuit for a single complex behavior gives us a tremendous advantage as we try to parse out exactly what these parts of the brain do and how they do it," says Woolley.

Useful for Parkinson's disease

The basal ganglia is dramatically affected in illnesses such as Parkinson's and Huntington disease. The team's findings may eventually be relevant to understanding changes to learning and flexibility in movement that occur in those diseases.

"These are the kind of questions that we are now starting to pursue in the lab: how variability is affected when you radically manipulate the system akin to what happens during disease", says Woolley.


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Contact: Cynthia Lee
cynthia.lee@mcgill.ca
514-398-6754
McGill University
Source:Eurekalert  

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