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Oxytocin receptor antagonism during early vocal learning reduces song preference and imitation in zebra finches

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Sci Rep. 2023 May 15;13(1):6627. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-33340-7.


In species with vocal learning, acquiring species-typical vocalizations relies on early social orienting. In songbirds, for example, learning song requires dynamic social interactions with a “tutor” during an early sensitive period. Here, we hypothesized that the attentional and motivational processes that support song learning recruit the oxytocin system, which is well-understood to play a role in social orienting in other species. Juvenile male zebra finches naïve to song were each tutored by two unfamiliar adult males. Before exposure to one tutor, juveniles were injected subcutaneously with oxytocin receptor antagonist (OTA; ornithine vasotocin) and before exposure to the other, saline (control). Treatment with OTA reduced behaviors associated with approach and attention during tutoring sessions. Using a novel operant paradigm to measure preference while balancing exposure to the two tutor songs, we showed that the juveniles preferred to hear the song of the control tutor. Their adult songs more closely resembled the control tutor’s song, and the magnitude of this difference was predicted by early preference for control over OTA song. Overall, oxytocin antagonism during exposure to a tutor seemed to bias juveniles against that tutor and his song. Our results suggest that oxytocin receptors are important for socially-guided vocal learning.

PMID:37188684 | PMC:PMC10185528 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-023-33340-7

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