Many brain regions exhibit lateral differences in structure and function, and also incorporate new neurons in adulthood, thought to function in learning and in the formation of new memories. However, the contribution of new neurons to hemispheric differences in processing is unknown. The present study combines cellular, behavioral, and physiological methods to address whether 1) new neuron incorporation differs between the brain hemispheres, and 2) the degree to which hemispheric lateralization of new neurons correlates with behavioral and physiological measures of learning and memory. The songbird provides a model system for assessing the contribution of new neurons to hemispheric specialization because songbird brain areas for vocal processing are functionally lateralized and receive a continuous influx of new neurons in adulthood. In adult male zebra finches, we quantified new neurons in the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM), a forebrain area involved in discrimination and memory for the complex vocalizations of individual conspecifics. We assessed song learning and recorded neural responses to song in NCM. We found significantly more new neurons labeled in left than in right NCM; moreover, the degree of asymmetry in new neuron numbers was correlated with the quality of song learning and strength of neuronal memory for recently heard songs. In birds with experimentally impaired song quality, the hemispheric difference in new neurons was diminished. These results suggest that new neurons may contribute to an allocation of function between the hemispheres that underlies the learning and processing of complex signals.
Tsoi, Shuk C.; Aiya, Utsav V.; Wasner, Kobi D.; Phan, Mimi L.; Pytte, Carolyn L.; and Vicario, David S., "Hemispheric Asymmetry in New Neurons in Adulthood Is Associated with Vocal Learning and Auditory Memory" (2014). CUNY Academic Works.