Lesions of an avian forebrain nucleus that disrupt song development alter synaptic connectivity and transmission in the vocal premotor pathway.
The avian forebrain nucleus, the lateral magnocellular nucleus of the anterior neostriatum (LMAN), is necessary for normal song development because LMAN lesions made in juvenile birds disrupt song production but do not disrupt song when made in adults. Although these age-limited behavioral effects implicate LMAN in song learning, a potential confound is that LMAN lesions could disrupt normal vocal motor function independent of any learning role by altering LMAN's premotor target, the song nucleus, the robust nucleus of the archistriatum (RA). To date, however, no studies have examined directly the effects of LMAN lesions on the circuitry of the RA. We report here that juvenile LMAN lesions rapidly and profoundly affect RA, altering synaptic connectivity within this nucleus, including descending inputs from the song nucleus HVc. Specifically, morphological assays of the dendritic spines of RA projection neurons and axon terminal boutons arising from HVc show a numerical decline in the density of connections in RA in LMAN-lesioned juveniles compared with controls. Concurrently, LMAN lesions alter excitatory transmission within the juvenile RA: after LMAN lesions, the stimulus-response relationship between HVc fibers and RA neurons steepens, and the amplitude of spontaneous monophasic EPSCs increases. Rather than arresting RA in a juvenile state, LMAN lesions transform the structure and function of RA and its connections, such that it is distinct from that of the normal juvenile. In many ways, RA circuitry in LMAN-lesioned juveniles resembles that of normal adults, suggesting that LMAN lesions induce a premature maturation of the vocal motor pathway, which may lead to a loss of behavioral plasticity and abnormal song development.
Kittelberger, JM; Mooney, R
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