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Social context modulates singing-related neural activity in the songbird forebrain


Birdsong is a complex vocal behavior learned during early life in a process similar to the learning of human speech1. Like speech, singing is a social behavior—male songbirds often use it in courtship or in territorial defense2. Here we show that, in the adult zebra finch, the pattern of singing-related neural activity in several high-level brain areas specialized for song learning is dependent on whether a bird sings by itself or to another bird; thus, this activity can indicate not only that a bird is singing but also the social context of the song.

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Figure 3: A social effect on singing-related firing was seen in all recordings from L-MAN and Area X.
Figure 1: Distinct pattern of L-MAN activity during singing in two social contexts.
Figure 2: Singing-related firing of an Area X single neuron is modulated by social context.


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This work was supported by NIH (MH55987 and NRSA fellowship NS09913), the Merck Fund and the EJLB Foundation. We are grateful for comments on the manuscript by Allan Basbaum, Howard Fields, Mimi Kao, Steve Lisberger and Michele Solis.

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Correspondence to Neal A. Hessler.

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Hessler, N., Doupe, A. Social context modulates singing-related neural activity in the songbird forebrain. Nat Neurosci 2, 209–211 (1999).

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