Brain pathways for learned and unlearned vocalizations differ in zebra finches

H. Blair Simpson, David S. Vicario

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

292 Scopus citations


Male zebra finches sing, females do not. However, both sexes produce the "long call" when placed in visual isolation. This call is sexually dimorphic; it includes learned components in males but not in females. The 3 learned features of the male long call are a high fundamental frequency, a fast frequency modulation, and a short, stable duration. These features are learned by the male during development, as is song. Since similar features are also found in song syllables, we wanted to know whether long-call production depends on the same CNS pathway that controls song production. Three critical components of the song pathway are telencephalic nuclei HVC, RA, and the tracheosyringeal (ts) nerves innervating the syrinx. In male zebra finches, bilateral section of the ts nerves affected the fundamental frequency and fast frequency modulations of both the long call and song but left the temporal features intact. Ts nerve section had no effect on the female long call. Bilateral lesions of either HVC or RA in males affected the fundamental frequency, fast frequency modulations, and temporal structure of both the long call and song. Similar lesions had no effect on the female long call. These results demonstrate that HVC, RA, and the ts nerves make critical contributions to the acoustic features of the male long call and song, while the temporal pattern depends on HVC and RA but not the ts nerves. HVC and RA lesions remove all the learned features that distinguish the male call and reveal a simple unlearned vocalization shared by both sexes. We suggest that the learned features of oscine songbird vocalizations are controlled by a telencephalic pathway that acts in concert with other pathways responsible for simpler, unlearned vocalizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1541-1556
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1990

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)

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