Recovery of Impaired Songs Following Unilateral But Not Bilateral Lesions of Nucleus Uvaeformis of Adult Zebra Finches

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WM Keck Science

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Zebra finches utilize neural circuits in both cerebral hemispheres to produce their learned songs. Although direct reciprocal connections do not exist between song control nuclei across hemispheres, premotor activity in these nuclei during singing is precisely and continuously coordinated between the hemispheres. We hypothesized that this interhemispheric coordination is mediated by bilateral feedback projections from medullary and midbrain song control nuclei to the thalamic song control nucleus uvaeformis (Uva). Consistent with our hypothesis, bilateral lesions of Uva severely impaired singing. This impairment was longlasting, as it persisted for at least 35 days after the lesions. Unilateral lesions of Uva on either side also resulted in an immediate singing impairment. However, song recovered substantially after less than 15 days, suggesting a possible compensation by the unlesioned side. Although the acoustic structure of individual syllables recovered fully after unilateral lesioning, subtle changes in the sequencing of syllables were observed after song recovery, suggesting that the lesion led to an alteration in the functioning of the remaining song control network. These results demonstrate that the adult songbird brain can adjust to damage to certain parts of the song control network and recover from their associated singing deficits. The well-identified and localized central neural pathways mediating birdsong production provide an advantageous model system to analyze systematically the sensorimotor contexts and the specific sites and mechanisms for behavioral recovery following partial damage to a behavior-producing neural circuit.