Many birds learn song during a restricted 'sensitive' period1. Juveniles memorize a song model, and then learn the pattern of muscle contractions necessary to reproduce the song. Of the neural changes accompanying avian song learning, perhaps the most remarkable is the production of new neurons which are inserted into the hyperstriatum ventralis pars caudalis (HVc)2, a region critical for song production3. We report here that in young male zebra finches many of the new neurons incorporated into the HVc innervate the robust nucleus of the archistriatum (RA) which projects to motor neurons controlling the vocal musculature3. Furthermore, far fewer of these new neurons are incorporated into the HVc of either adult males that are beyond the sensitive learning period, or young females (who do not develop song). Thus, a major portion of the vocal motor pathway is actually created during song learning. This may enable early sensory experience and vocal practice to not only modify existing neuronal circuits, but also shape the insertion and initial synaptic contacts of neurons controlling adult song.
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Nordeen, K., Nordeen, E. Projection neurons within a vocal motor pathway are born during song learning in zebra finches. Nature 334, 149–151 (1988). https://doi.org/10.1038/334149a0
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