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Behavior-Linked FoxP2 Regulation Enables Zebra Finch Vocal Learning


Mutations in the FOXP2 transcription factor cause an inherited speech and language disorder, but how FoxP2 contributes to learning of these vocal communication signals remains unclear. FoxP2 is enriched in corticostriatal circuits of both human and songbird brains. Experimental knockdown of this enrichment in song control neurons of the zebra finch basal ganglia impairs tutor song imitation, indicating that adequate FoxP2 levels are necessary for normal vocal learning. In unmanipulated birds, vocal practice acutely downregulates FoxP2, leading to increased vocal variability and dynamic regulation of FoxP2 target genes. To determine whether this behavioral regulation is important for song learning, here, we used viral-driven overexpression of FoxP2 to counteract its downregulation. This manipulation disrupted the acute effects of song practice on vocal variability and caused inaccurate song imitation. Together, these findings indicate that dynamic behavior-linked regulation of FoxP2, rather than absolute levels, is critical for vocal learning.

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