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15th Annual Mind/Brain Lecture April 11

Allison doupe 1
Dr. Allison J. Doupe

The Swartz Foundation‘s annual exploration of the mysteries of the mind will be held on Monday, April 11, at 4:30 pm as Dr. Allison J. Doupe discusses “What Songbirds Can Teach Us About Learning and the Brain” at the 15th Annual Swartz Foundation Mind/Brain Lecture.

Baby songbirds learn to sing the same way human infants learn to speak—by listening to and mimicking their parents. Dr. Doupe shows how the specialized brain circuits of songbirds, specifically Zebra Finch, are providing insight into human motor learning and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and addiction.

Dr. Doupe, a professor of Psychiatry and Physiology at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), received an M.D. and Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1984 and has been a faculty member at UCSF since 1993. She is interested in how the nervous system mediates behavior, especially complex behaviors that must be learned. Birdsong provides a very useful model system for the study of these issues, with particular parallels to human speech.

Secrets of the Songbirds
An amazing capacity of humans is our ability to learn to speak. Songbirds provide one of the few animal models for speech learning: like human infants, baby songbirds must hear the sounds of adults during a sensitive period, and then must hear their own voice while learning to vocalize. They also possess networks of brain regions required for song learning, with many similarities to mammalian brains. One of these brain regions is a basal ganglia circuit specialized for song. Basal ganglia circuits are critical for learning and control of movements in all vertebrates, and a site of many neurological and psychiatric diseases; however, despite their importance, they remain in many ways mysterious.

During her talk, Dr. Doupe will demonstrate how the songbird’s (male Zebra Finches) song-specific basal ganglia circuit is providing very general insights into how such circuits function, both normally and in disorders of these brain regions.

The lecture, which will be held at the Staller Center Main Stage, is intended for a general audience. Admission is free but seating is limited so please arrive early. A reception with the speaker will immediately follow the talk. Visit for more information.

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