Accelerated redevelopment of vocal skills is preceded by lasting reorganization of the song motor circuitry

Complex motor skills take considerable time and practice to learn. Without continued practice the level of skill performance quickly degrades, posing a problem for the timely utilization of skilled motor behaviors. Here we quantified the recurring development of vocal motor skills and the accompanying changes in synaptic connectivity in the brain of a songbird, while manipulating skill performance by consecutively administrating and withdrawing testosterone. We demonstrate that a songbird with prior singing experience can significantly accelerate the re-acquisition of vocal performance. We further demonstrate that an increase in vocal performance is accompanied by a pronounced synaptic pruning in the forebrain vocal motor area HVC, a reduction that is not reversed when birds stop singing. These results provide evidence that lasting synaptic changes in the motor circuitry are associated with the savings of motor skills, enabling a rapid recovery of motor performance under environmental time constraints.

. 2019; 8: e43194.
Published online 2019 May 17. doi: 10.7554/eLife.43194