Serotonin (5-HT) is a neuromodulator that is important for neural development, learning and memory, mood, and perception. Dysfunction of the serotonin system is central to depression and other clinically important mood disorders and has been linked with learning deficits. In mammals, 5-HT release from the raphe nuclei in the brainstem can modulate the functional properties of cortical neurons, influencing sensory and motor processing. Birds also have serotonergic neurons in the dorsal raphe, suggesting that 5-HT plays similar roles in sensory and motor processing, perhaps modulating brain circuitry underlying birdsong. To investigate this possibility, we measured the effects of 5-HT on spontaneous firing of projection neurons in the premotor robust nucleus of the arcopallium in brain slices from male zebra finches. These neurons are thought be akin to cortical layerVpyramidal neurons. 5-HT dramatically and reversibly enhanced the endogenous firing of RA neurons. Using pharmacological agonists and antagonists in vitro, we determined this action is mediated via HTR2 receptors, which we verified are expressed by in situ hybridization. Finally, focal administration of the serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor fluvoxamine revealed that endogenous 5-HT is sufficient to mediate this effect in vivo. These findings reveal a modulatory action of serotonin on the physiology of the song system circuitry and suggest a novel role of serotonin in regulating song production and/or learning; further understanding of the role of 5-HT in this system may help illuminate the complex role of this neuromodulator in social interactions and motor plasticity in humans.
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