Translating birdsong: Songbirds as a model for basic and applied medical research
AbstractSongbirds, long of interest to basic neuroscience, have great potential as a model system for translational neuroscience. Songbirds learn their complex vocal behavior in a manner that exemplifies general processes of perceptual and motor skill learning and, more specifically, resembles human speech learning. Song is subserved by circuitry that is specialized for vocal learning and production but that has strong similarities to mammalian brain pathways. The combination of highly quantifiable behavior and discrete neural substrates facilitates understanding links between brain and behavior, both in normal states and in disease. Here we highlight (a) behavioral and mechanistic parallels between birdsong and aspects of speech and social communication, including insights into mirror neurons, the function of auditory feedback, and genes underlying social communication disorders, and (b) contributions of songbirds to understanding cortical-basal ganglia circuit function and dysfunction, including the possibility of harnessing adult neurogenesis for brain repair. © 2013 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.