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Neuroscience Graduate Program at UCSF

Faculty - Allison Doupe, M.D./Ph.D.

The Neural Basis of Vocal Learning in Songbirds


Research Description

Our laboratory combines neurophysiology, pharmacology, and behavioral manipulations in songbirds to reveal general principles linking brain to behavior. Songbirds learn their song in a process with striking parallels to speech learning, and use specialized versions of standard mammalian circuits to do so. In our studies of the cortical-basal ganglia circuit for song, this approach has allowed us to establish that neurons in the ‘cortical’ outflow of such circuits are essential for vocal plasticity throughout life, and actively generate behavioral variability critical for motor exploration and reinforcement learning.  Moreover, birds can turn off this variability in response to rewarding social cues in order to switch from ‘practice’ to social ‘performance’. When dysregulated, such variability may be an underappreciated source of pathology in the many human disorders of cortical-basal ganglia circuits, including Parkinson’s, autism, and addictions. The lab is therefore also beginning to collaborate with clinical researchers to create songbird models of human diseases, including speech-related disorders, to shed light on mechanisms and inspire new treatments. Simultaneously, our lab has used simplified, mathematically tractable versions of complex natural song stimuli to understand sound processing in cortical auditory areas afferent to the song system.  Aided by knowing that these stimuli are behaviorally relevant, these studies have revealed unexpected spectro-temporal cortical organization akin to ‘what-where’ pathways in mammals, and are enabling us to examine auditory perceptual processing and its limits.  

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Current Projects

See above

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Lab Members

Adria Arteseros
Research Associate
B.S., California Polytechnic State University
Behavioral and anatomical studies of the song system

Mimi Kao
Postdoctoral Fellow
Ph.D. UCSF
B.S. Stanford University
Interaction of a basal ganglia circuit for learning with motor areas for song

Smitha Jagadish
Postdoctoral Fellow
PhD Columbia University
Molecular dissection of song circuitry

Satoshi Kojima
Postdoctoral Fellow
Ph.D., Hokkaido University in Japan
Neural and behavioral analysis of vocal learning

Gunsoo Kim
Postdoctoral Fellow
PhD University of Pittsburgh
Processing and perception of complex natural sounds

Hamish Mehaffey
Postdoctoral Fellow
Ph.D. University of Alberta
Circuit and synaptic mechanisms in song

Helen McLendon
Graduate Student
BS Stanford University
Behavioral and neurophysiological analyses of song perception

Derek Zaraza
Specialist
PhD University of Chicago
Viral and optogenetic approaches to the song system

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Selected Publications

Solis, M.M. and Doupe, A.J. (1999) Contributions of tutor and bird’s own song experience to neural selectivity in the songbird anterior forebrain.  J. Neurosci. 19(11):4559-4584

Hessler, N.A. and Doupe, A.J. (1999) Social context modulates singing-related neural activity in the songbird forebrain.  Nature Neurosci. 2(3):209-211

Brainard, M.S. and Doupe, A.J. (2000) Interruption of a basal ganglia-forebrain circuit prevents plasticity of learned vocalizations.  Nature 404:762-766

Boettiger, C.A. and Doupe, A.J. (2001) Developmentally restricted synaptic plasticity in a songbird nucleus required for song learning. Neuron 31(5):809-18

Kao, M. H., Doupe, A. J., and Brainard, M. S. (2005) Contributions of an avian basal ganglia-forebrain circuit to real-time modulation of  vocal motor output.  Nature 433:638-43

Nagel, K.I and Doupe, A.J. (2006) Temporal processing and adaptation in the songbird auditory forebrain. Neuron 51:845-59

Nagel, K.I., and Doupe, A.J. (2008) Organizing principles of spectro-temporal encoding in the avian primary auditory area field L. Neuron (58(6):938-55

Kao, M. H., Wright, B.D. and  Doupe, A.J. (2008) Neurons in a forebrain nucleus required for vocal plasticity rapidly switch between precise firing and variable bursting depending on social context. J. of Neurosci 28:13232-47

Woolley, S.C., and Doupe, A.J. (2008) Social context-induced song variation affects female behavior and gene expression.  PLoS Biol. 6(3)

Kojima, S. and Doupe, A.J. (2011) Social performance reveals unexpected vocal competency in young songbirds. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 108(4):1687-92

Raghav, RR, and Doupe, AJ (2013) Behavioral and neural signatures of readiness to initiate a learned motor sequence. Current Biology 23:87-93

Kojima S, Kao MH, Doupe, AJ (2013) Task-related "cortical" bursting depends critically on basal ganglia  input and is linked to vocal plasticity. Proc Natl Acad Sci  110(12):4756-61

Brainard MS, Doupe AJ. (2013) Translating birdsong: songbirds as a model for basic and applied medical research.. Annu Rev Neurosci. 36:489-517

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Allison Doupe, M.D./Ph.D.



Email

ajd@phy.ucsf.edu

Phone

415-502-7353

Physical Address:

UCSF MC 0444
675 Nelson Rising Lane, Room 511B
San Francisco, CA 94158

Other Websites

Dept. of Psychiatry

Center for Integrative Neuroscience

PIBS Website