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