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 A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
18.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>