Feedback circuitry within a song-learning pathway.
The song system of birds consists of several neural pathways. One of these, the anterior forebrain pathway, is necessary for the acquisition but not for the production of learned song in zebra finches. It has been shown that the anterior forebrain pathway sequentially connects the following nuclei: the high vocal center, area X of lobus parolfactorius, the medial portion of the dorsolateral thalamic nucleus, the lateral magnocellular nucleus of anterior neostriatum (IMAN), and the robust nucleus of the archistriatum (RA). We now show in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) that IMAN cells that project to RA also project to area X, forming a feedback loop within the anterior forebrain pathway. The axonal endings of the IMAN projection into area X form cohesive and distinct domains. Small injections of tracer in subregions of area X backfill a spatially restricted subset of cells in IMAN, that, in turn, send projections to RA that are arranged in horizontal layers, which may correspond to the functional representation of vocal tract muscles demonstrated by others. We infer from our data that there is a myotopic representation throughout the anterior forebrain pathway. In addition, we suggest that the parcellation of area X into smaller domains by the projection from IMAN highlights a functional architecture within X, which might correspond to units of motor control, to the representation of acoustic features of song, or both.