Neuroscience Lecture by Marc F. Schmidt, Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania)

Title: A framework to study the neurobiology of courtship behavior in songbirds

Host: Gilles Laurent

Time and venue: 11.00 a.m. at the Lecture Hall of the Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research, Max-von-Laue-Str. 4, 60438, Frankfurt am Main (Campus Riedberg)

Courtship is complex and is influenced by many factors including social context, hormone levels, and environmental stimuli. The specific neural circuits that underlie the regulation of this suite of behaviors is poorly understood. My laboratory is investigating the role that a neural circuit known as the ‘song system”, which has exclusively been studied in the context of singing in males, plays in regulating courtship behavior in females.
We previously showed that targeted lesions to this circuit in female cowbirds–which do not sing–disrupt female preference and eliminate selectivity of their copulatory response to song. These same lesions dramatically disrupt normally stable social groups, causing all males to sing to the lesioned females, instead of only singing to their pair-bonded partner.
My talk will discuss work in the laboratory, where we investigate the neural bases of copulatory control and selectivity in female birds. I will also talk about preliminary work from our new outdoor “smart aviary”, where we use newly developed computer-vision approaches to non-invasively track moment-to-moment behavioral interactions, both vocal and non-vocal, in a stable group of 16 birds during the entire breeding season. This work aims to quantify courtship interactions in the group and identify patterns that become dysregulated following lesions to the “song system” circuit. 



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Dr. Irina Epstein
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