A network of neurons in the zebra finch’s motor cortex of the bird’s brain sends a copy of vocal commands – what the bird intends to sing – to the auditory cortex. Researchers from the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute surmise that as the birds hear themselves sing, this brain pathway helps them compare their produced sounds to what they intended to sing. Says one researcher, “Speech and language learning depend on our ability to evaluate how accurately we are producing the particular sounds associated with speech.” In the study, the researchers showed that disabling the neurons in the identified pathway impaired younger songbirds’ ability to learn a new song. Adult songbirds were able to sing what they had previously learned but could no longer learn to change the timing and tempo of their song. By mapping the neural processes involved as birds learn songs, the scientists hope eventually to use that knowledge to target specific genes disrupting speech in patients with autism or other neurodevelopmental conditions.