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Songbirds offer clues to highly practiced motor skills in humans
Date:12/21/2007

and change it in a predetermined way.

Notably, when the white noise bursts were stopped, the pitch reverted to its original range, indicating that the nervous system retained a representation of the initial song and that there was some drive to return to it.

The scientists also examined whether more dramatic remodeling of the birds song was possible. They explored this possibility by creating conditions in which escape from white noise required the birds to make progressively larger shifts in pitch. Under these conditions, the scientists were able to incrementally drive large changes to the point that syllables were produced in a range that did not overlap with the baseline range.

This showed you can drive really big changes in this normally stereotyped behavior but you have to do it incrementally, says Tumer. This could have implications for rehabilitation strategies in humans.

In support of the current findings, previous work by Brainards team and others has revealed that when male songbirds sing alone there is greater variability in their song than when they sing to females.

The theory, says Brainard, is that the birds can afford to experiment, and thus practice their tunes, when the pressure is off. This process, he suggests, is not occurring at a conscious level. Rather, it is likely driven by neurochemicals released under varying circumstances that are then acting on a region of the nervous system known as the basal ganglia, which is critical to song learning and maintenance.

You could imagine, says Tumer, who is also a member of the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience at UCSF, that when wooing a female bird or stepping onto the green for the Masters golf tournament -- neuromodulatory systems would be more engaged than if the bird were on a lonely tree branch or the athlete on a sleepy Sunday afternoon round of golf with friends.


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Contact: Jennifer OBrien
jobrien@pubaff.ucsf.edu
415-476-2557
University of California - San Francisco
Source:Eurekalert

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