The Neural Mechanisms of Birdsong Production and Learning
Similar to speech learning in humans, songbirds learn their songs by adjusting their own vocalizations in reference to a memorized tutor song. In my lab we are interested in decoding the 'neural algorithms' for this remarkable behavior. Research methods include but are not limited to chronic and acute electrophysiology, in-vivo pharmacology, light and electron microscopy, and computational modeling.
Songbirds have the rare ability of vocal learning. They learn their songs in a sensory phase during which they memorize a template of tutor song and in a sensorimotor phase, in which they refine their vocalizations to gradually approximate the tutor song. They achieve this remarkable feat using a highly specialized set of brain areas, termed the song system. Our research is directed at elucidating the various neural mechanisms of song production and song learning by performing in vivo experiments in freely behaving and singing birds. We apply diverse techniques such as electrical stimulation, pharmacological manipulations, and electrophysiology. We hope to identify the roles of diverse neuron types and their circuit mechanisms for generating complex vocal behaviors.