Birds display advanced behaviors, including vocal learning and problem-solving, yet lack a layered neocortex, a structure associated with complex behavior in mammals. To determine whether these behavioral similarities result from shared or distinct neural circuits, we used single-cell RNA sequencing to characterize the neuronal repertoire of the songbird song motor pathway. Glutamatergic vocal neurons had considerable transcriptional similarity to neocortical projection neurons; however, they displayed regulatory gene expression patterns more closely related to neurons in the ventral pallium. Moreover, while g-aminobutyric acid-releasing neurons in this pathway appeared homologous to those in mammals and other amniotes, the most abundant avian class is largely absent in the neocortex. These data suggest that songbird vocal circuits and the mammalian neocortex have distinct developmental origins yet contain transcriptionally similar neurons.
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