Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Birdsongs give insights into learning new behaviors

02.05.2008
Young songbirds babble before they learn to sing

Young songbirds babble before they can mimic an adult’s song, much like their human counterparts. Now, in work that offers insights into how birds—and perhaps people—learn new behaviors, MIT scientists have found that immature and adult birdsongs are driven by two separate brain pathways, rather than one pathway that slowly matures.

The work is reported in the May 2 issue of Science.

“The babbling during song learning exemplifies the ubiquitous exploratory behavior that we often call play but that is essential for trial-and-error learning,” comments Michale Fee, the senior author of the study and a neuroscientist in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT and an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

... more about:
»Brain »LMAN »babbling »circuit »immature

Early on, baby zebra finches produce a highly variable, babbling song. They practice incessantly until they can produce the stereotyped, never-changing song of adults. “This early variability is necessary for learning, so we wanted to determine whether it is produced by an immature adult motor pathway or by some other circuit,” Fee explains.

Past research has shown that the zebra finch has two distinct brain circuits dedicated to song, one for learning and another – known as the motor circuit – for producing the learned song. Damage to the first circuit while the bird is still learning prevents further learning, so the song remains immature. Yet in an adult that has already learned its song, disabling the learning circuit has no effect on song production.

Scientists assumed that the motor circuit is equally important in producing baby birds’ babbling, but surprisingly, no one had done the experiments to find out. First author Dmitriy Aronov and co-author Aaron Andalman, both graduate students in Fee’s lab, adapted existing techniques previously developed in the Fee lab so that they could temporarily disable parts of the brain, and record from neurons in the singing bird.

The results were surprising.

When they disabled a part of the motor circuit known as HVC in these very young birds, the babies continued to sing, implying that some other brain region produces the babbling. The authors suspected that a key component of the learning circuit, called LMAN, has a previously unknown motor function. They confirmed this by showing that when LMAN was disabled in very young birds, they ceased babbling.

“This tells us that singing is driven by two different motor circuits at different stages of development,” explains Aronov. “We’ve long known that these two pathways develop physiologically at different times, so there’s an elegant parallel between our functional findings and what is already known about anatomy.”

But what happens to LMAN in adulthood, after birds have learned their song? Contrary to the “use it or lose it” assumption, the authors found that LMAN retains its ability to drive babbling even in adulthood. Disrupting HVC in adults caused the birds to revert immediately to babbling, suggesting that LMAN can take over again if the more powerful signals from HVC are blocked.

Fee speculates that these results may apply more broadly to other forms of immature or exploratory behavior, in humans as well as birds. “In birds, the exploratory phase ends when learning is complete,” he says. “But we humans can always call upon our equivalent of LMAN, the prefrontal cortex, to be innovative and learn new things.”

The NIH and graduate fellowships from the Hertz Foundation (D.A.) and the Friends of the McGovern Institute (A.A.) funded this study.

By Cathryn Delude, McGovern Institute

Teresa Herbert | Massachusetts Institute of Techn
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

Further reports about: Brain LMAN babbling circuit immature

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Closing in on advanced prostate cancer
13.12.2017 | Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)

nachricht Visualizing single molecules in whole cells with a new spin
13.12.2017 | Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A whole-body approach to understanding chemosensory cells

13.12.2017 | Health and Medicine

Water without windows: Capturing water vapor inside an electron microscope

13.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cellular Self-Digestion Process Triggers Autoimmune Disease

13.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>