Learning new songs

New research shows that premotor neurons are activated in the brains of adolescent male zebra finches whenever a young bird hears their father (a tutor) sing. These are the same neurons that are usually activated in anticipation of movement. What is special about this, is that as the birds learned new songs or pieces of new songs, activation of these neurons declined. This effect was due to inhibitory interneurons whose firing frequency increased as the birds practiced and improved their accuracy. Activation of these inhibitory interneurons prevented any further changes to the circuitry once a song, or pieces of a song, was learned. In a quote from the New York Times, study author Dr. Michael Long (New York University, Langone) said, “These inhibitory cells are really smart — once you’ve gotten a part of the song down, the area gets locked." Although the neurons ignore the father once the birds reach sexual maturity, unlike human adolescents the birds remember everything he had to say.

Dr. Long also stated in a quote from Science Daily, "While we have known for decades that adolescent songbirds only learn their songs if exposed to a tutor, we believe our study is the first to detail changes in nerve networks that make this mastery possible in maturing brains."

Here is a video from the NY Times showing an adolescent male learning to sing from a "tutor":

Sources:

D. Vallentin, G. Kosche, D. Lipkind, M. A. Long. Inhibition protects acquired song segments during vocal learning in zebra finches. Science, 2016; 351 (6270): 267 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad3023

Science Daily

Video from: New York Times

More like this

A recent paper in PLoS Biology examines the role of the so called "language gene" in neural development related to vocalization. It was previously found that FOXP2 gene is up-regulated in a certain area of the brain that is important for neural plasticity related to vocalization. The present…
First off, some exciting news for Grey Matters: Dr. Irene Pepperberg has agreed to do an interview for the series, likely in September. Today's feature on Grey Matters is regarding the neural architecture underlying the learning and memorization of songs and sounds in birds. Hopefully it will…
Human cultural traits such as language, dress, religion and values are generally said to be passed from one generation to the next by social learning. And in animal species which have language, the same is true; male song birds, for example, learn the songs with which they serenade potential mates…
In Nature, De novo establishment of wild-type song culture in the zebra finch: Culture is typically viewed as consisting of traits inherited epigenetically, through social learning. However, cultural diversity has species-typical constraints, presumably of genetic origin... Zebra finch isolates,…