Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are characterized by impaired learning of social skills and language. Memories of how parents and other social models behave are used to guide behavioral learning. How ASD-linked genes affect the intertwined aspects of observational learning and behavioral imitation is not known. Here, we examine how disrupted expression of the ASD gene FOXP1, which causes severe impairments in speech and language learning, affects the cultural transmission of birdsong between adult and juvenile zebra finches. FoxP1 is widely expressed in striatal-projecting forebrain mirror neurons. Knockdown of FoxP1 in this circuit prevents juvenile birds from forming memories of an adult song model but does not interrupt learning how to vocally imitate a previously memorized song. This selective learning deficit is associated with potent disruptions to experience-dependent structural and synaptic plasticity in mirror neurons. Thus, FoxP1 regulates the ability to form memories essential to the cultural transmission of behavior.
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