Animals learn many complex behaviors by emulating the behavior of more experienced individuals. This essential, yet still poorly understood, form of learning relies on the ability to encode lasting memories of observed behaviors. We identified a vocal-motor pathway in the zebra finch where memories that guide learning of song-element durations can be implanted. Activation of synapses in this pathway seeds memories that guide learning of song-element duration and can override learning from social interactions with other individuals. Genetic lesions of this circuit after memory formation, however, do not disrupt subsequent song imitation, which suggests that these memories are stored at downstream synapses. Thus, activity at these sensorimotor synapses can bypass learning from auditory and social experience and embed memories that guide learning of song timing.
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