Birth, migration, incorporation, and death of vocal control neurons in adult songbirds



Neurogenesis continues in the brain of adult birds. These cells are born in the ventricular zone of the lateral ventricles. Young neurons then migrate long distances guided, in part, by radial cell processes and become incorporated throughout most of the telencephalon. In songbirds, the high vocal center (HVC), which is important for the production of learned song, receives many of its neurons after hatching. HVC neurons which project to the robust nucleus of the archistriatum to form part of the efferent pathway for song production, and HVC interneurons continue to be added throughout life. In contrast, Area X-projecting HVC cells, thought to be part of a circuit necessary for song learning but not essential for adult song production, are only born in the embryo. New neurons in HVC of juvenile and adult birds replace older cells that die. There is a correlation between seasonal cell turnover rates (addition and loss) and testosterone levels in adult male canaries. Available evidence suggests that steroid hormones control the recruitment and/or survival of new HVC neurons, but not their production. The functions of neuronal replacement in adult birds remain unclear. However, rates of HVC neuron turnover are highest at times of year when canaries modify their songs. Replaceable HVC neurons may participate in the modification of perceptual memories or motor programs for song production. In contrast, permanent HVC neurons could hold long-lasting song-related information. The unexpected large-scale production of neurons in the adult brain holds important clues about brain function and, in particular, about the neural control of a learned behavior—birdsong. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. J Neurobiol 33: 585–601, 1997