Neural circuits underlying vocal learning in the songbird.
The main focus of the lab is to understand the neural circuit mechanisms underlying vocal learning in songbirds. The zebra finch, our species of choice, learns its song in a manner that is similar to how we learn many of our motor skills – by imitating a tutor.
It first listens and memorizes the tutor song, then proceeds with trial-and-error vocal experimentation, producing highly variable song. By continuously evaluating its own performance relative to the memorized song template, the songbird slowly converges on a copy of the tutor song.
The ultimate goal of our research is to arrive at a mechanistic description of how this learning algorithm is implemented by neurons and their connections. This involves identifying the neural circuits involved and understanding their function. To this end we manipulate, measure from, and model the neural circuits involved in song learning and song production.
The process of song learning and song production is thought to be governed by a set of interconnected brain nuclei, known collectively as the song circuit. Our research is aimed at understanding how this circuit implements its function.