Functional identification of specialized basal ganglia circuits that regulate vocal motor sequences

Lei Xiao, Devin P. Merullo, Mou Cao, Marissa Co, Ashwinikumar Kulkarni, Genevieve Konopka, Todd F. Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Production of learned vocalizations requires precise selection and accurate sequencing of appropriate vocal-motor actions. The basal ganglia are essential for the selection and sequencing of motor actions, but the cellular specializations and circuit mechanisms governing accurate sequencing of vocalizations are unknown. Here, we use single-nucleus RNA sequencing and genetic manipulations to map basal ganglia cell types and circuits involved in the production of songbird vocal sequences. We identify cell-type specializations in direct-like and indirect-like basal ganglia pathways, including evolutionary expansion of striatal and arkypallidal cell-types that could facilitate vocal sequencing. Surprisingly, we find that FoxP2, a gene important for vocal development, can potently and reversibly control accurate sequencing of adult birdsong, and that phasic dopamine selectively regulates repetition of syllables independent of its role in reinforcement-based learning of how they are sung. These findings identify key evolutionary specializations and circuits essential for selection and sequencing of vocal-motor actions necessary for vocal communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Mar 16 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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