Neural Circuits for Vocal Communication

We intend to explore the neural circuits driving skilled motor learning and orchestrating the coordination of precise movements. To address this topic, we are working with songbirds. These animals learn their complex vocal behavior - their song - through a self-guided learning process. During a critical period for song learning they listen to a tutor and aim to imitate its songs by practicing it hundreds of thousands of times. Once a flawless copy is achieved the song repertoire is established. Adult songbirds use this vocal collection to interact in different contexts, like mating or territory defense, and are able to precisely time their vocal interactions.

We are using a combination of automated behavioral training paradigms, electrophysiological recordings in awake behaving animals, pharmacological approaches and imaging techniques to uncover how a complex vocal behavior is learned and can be executed in a precise manner. Due to the homology of brain structures in birds and mammals, studying the neural mechanisms of vocal learning and coordination in songbirds has the potential to reveal general principles of motor circuits in other animals, including humans.

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