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How do we learn through practice?

We use songbirds and mice as model systems to understand the brain mechanisms of motor learning.

Song is a complex learned motor sequence

Baby birds ‘babble!’ As they hone their skills, they listen to their own songs and evaluate song quality. Over weeks of trial and error practice, they eventually learn to copy their tutor song! How do they do it?

A specialized brain circuit for motor learning

Songbirds have a basal ganglia thalamocortical pathway specialized for song learning. 

Shared brain pathways in songbirds and humans

The basal ganglia thalamocortical loop is an evolutionarily conserved brain pathway required for trial and error learning in both birds and humans. This pathway is associated with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and dystonia, and psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and addiction.