The Guest Lecturer

Nicholas SchiffAllison Doupe, MD, PhD
Dr. Doupe is Professor of Psychiatry and Physiology at the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience, University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Doupe received a BSc from McGill University in 1975 and simultaneously received a MD and PhD from Harvard University in 1984. She has been a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry and Physiology at UCSF since 1993. Dr. Doupe's laboratory is interested in how the nervous system mediates behavior, especially complex behaviors that must be learned. Birdsong provides a useful model system for the study of these issues. Song is an intricate motor act that is learned in distinct phases during a bird's life, and depends on the animal's auditory experience. There are critical periods for song learning, just as there are for human language learning. Watch the video »

Dr. Doupe is the recipient of a Klingenstein Fellowship, a McKnight Investigator Award, a Searle Scholarship, an EJLB Scholar Award, and a Merck Fellowship. She is a diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and serves on the editorial board of several leading journals, including the Journal of Neuroscience and the Journal of Neurobiology. More info »


sparrowThe Neural Basis of Vocal Learning in Songbirds
At present Dr. Doupe's lab is focused on a particular song circuit, the anterior forebrain pathway (AFP). Numerous behavioral studies have suggested that this specialized basal ganglia circuit plays an essential role in song learning. Using a variety of physiological, behavioral, anatomical, and theoretical techniques, her lab is studying how the different features of song are represented in this network, how the animal's auditory experience and vocal learning shape its neuronal properties, and what the crucial function of this pathway might be.

Since the bird normally hears its own song only during singing, the lab has begun recording from this pathway in awake, behaving birds. This has demonstrated that AFP neurons are also highly active when the bird sings, and carry signals related to the motor act of singing as well as auditory responses. Behavioral experiments, using lesions of this pathway, suggest that these neurons may be required any time the bird changes its song, even in adulthood, and may encode an error signal when auditory feedback does not match the intended vocal output. Moreover, the activity of these neurons is dramatically affected by different social settings (singing alone vs. singing to a companion), raising the possibility that this circuit may also be involved in social modulation of singing and song learning.