Emergence of context-dependent variability across a basal ganglia network

Sarah C. Woolley*, Raghav Rajan, Mati Joshua, Allison J. Doupe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Context dependence is a key feature of cortical-basal ganglia circuit activity, and in songbirds the cortical outflow of a basal ganglia circuit specialized for song, LMAN, shows striking increases in trial-by-trial variability and bursting when birds sing alone rather than to females. To reveal where this variability and its social regulation emerge, we recorded stepwise from corticostriatal (HVC) neurons and their target spiny and pallidal neurons in Area X. We find that corticostriatal and spiny neurons both show precise singing-related firing across both social settings. Pallidal neurons, in contrast, exhibit markedly increased trial-by-trial variation when birds sing alone, created by highly variable pauses in firing. This variability persists even when recurrent inputs from LMAN are ablated. These data indicate that variability and its context sensitivity emerge within the basal ganglia network, suggest a network mechanism for this emergence, and highlight variability generation and regulation as basal ganglia functions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)208-223
Number of pages16
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Michael Brainard, Mimi Kao, Jon Sakata, Satoshi Kojima, and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (MH68114 to S.C.W., and MH55987 and MH078824 to A.J.D.), the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (A.J.D.), and the Human Frontiers Science Program (R.R.).


Dive into the research topics of 'Emergence of context-dependent variability across a basal ganglia network'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this