Sarah Bottjer

Professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology
Sarah Bottjer
Email Office HNB 218 Office Phone (213) 740-9183


  • Ph.D. Experimental Psychology with Zoology minor, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1/1980
  • B.A. Psychology, State University of New York, Binghamton, 6/1975
    • Assistant Research Scientist, UCLA, 1982-1986
    • Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA, 1980-1982
  • Summary Statement of Research Interests

    My lab studies vocal learning in songbirds as a model system for understanding basic mechanisms of neural development, learning and memory, and brain-behavior relationships. Our research program has made key discoveries about changes in the neural substrate for learned vocal behavior that occur during early development as birds learn the sounds used for vocal communication. For example, we have shown that a specific neural circuit in the basal ganglia is necessary for vocal learning in juveniles, and that single neurons in this circuit gradually become selectively tuned to the specific vocal sounds heard during development. Our work has helped to elucidate how the brain controls and produces behaviors (such as learned vocal utterances) and how early experience affects the development of neural networks. This research is an important part of understanding speech acquisition in children, normal brain function, and the brain’s response to injury, disease and aging. Among other projects, we are currently investigating the contribution of specific neural circuits to distinct aspects of vocal learning (such as perception and production, the role of auditory experience in sculpting neural circuits for vocal learning during sensitive periods of development, and the influence of sensory experience in regulating specificity of connections in neural networks.

  • Journal Article

    • Miller-Sims, V. C., Bottjer, S. W. (2012). Auditory experience refines cortico-basal ganglia inputs to motor cortex via re-mapping of single axons during vocal learning. Journal of Neurophysiology. Vol. 107
    • Bottjer, S. W., Alderete, T. L., Chang, D. C. (2010). Conjunction of vocal production and perception regulates expression of the immediate early gene zenk in a novel cortical region of zebra finches. Journal of Neurophysiology. Vol. 103, pp. 1833-1842.
    • Bottjer, S. W., Altenau, B. A. (2009). Parallel pathways for vocal learning in basal ganglia of songbirds. Nature Neuroscience. Vol. 13, pp. 153-155.
    • Bottjer, S. W. (2005). Silent synapses in a thalamo-cortical circuit necessary for song learning in zebra finches. Journal of Neurophysiology. Vol. 94, pp. 3698-7307.
    • DeWulf, V., Bottjer, S. W. (2005). Neurogenesis within the juvenile zebra finch telencephalic ventricular zone: a map of proliferative activity. Journal of Comparative Neurology. Vol. 481, pp. 70-83.
    • Bottjer, S. W. (2005). Timing and prediction: the code from basal ganglia to thalamus. Neuron. Vol. 46, pp. 4-7..
    • Zevin, J. D., Seidenberg, M. S., Bottjer, S. W. (2004). Limits on reacquisition of song in adult zebra finches exposed to white noise. Journal of Neuroscience. Vol. 24, pp. 5849-5862.
    • Bottjer, S. W. (2004). Developmental regulation of basal ganglia circuitry during the sensitive period for vocal learning in songbirds. Annals NY Academy of Sciences. Vol. 1016, pp. 395-415.
    • Iyengar, S., Bottjer, S. W. (2002). The role of auditory experience in the formation of neural circuits underlying vocal learning in zebra finches. Journal of Neuroscience. Vol. 22, pp. 946-958.
    • Bottjer, S. W. (2002). Neural strategies for learning during sensitive periods of development. Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroetholgy Sensory Neural Behavioral Physiology. Vol. 188, pp. 917-928.
    • DeWulf, V., Bottjer, S. W. (2002). Age and sex differences in mitotic activity within the zebra finch telencephalon. Journal of Neuroscience. Vol. 22, pp. 4080-4094.
    • Iyengar, S., Bottjer, S. W. (2002). Development of individual axon arbors in a thalamocortical circuit necessary for song learning in zebra finches. Journal of Neuroscience. Vol. 22 (3), pp. 901-11.
    • Troyer, T. W., Bottjer, S. W. (2001). Birdsong: models and mechanisms. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. Vol. 11, pp. 721-726.
    • Foster, E. F., Bottjer, S. W. (2001). Lesions of a telencephalic nucleus in male zebra finches: Influences on vocal behavior in juveniles and adults. Journal of Neurobiology. Vol. 46, pp. 142-165.
    • Bottjer, S. W., Brady, J. D., Cribbs, B. (2000). Connections of a motor cortical region in zebra finches: relation to pathways for vocal learning. Journal of Comparative Neurology. Vol. 420 (2), pp. 244-60.
    • Iyengar, S., Viswanathan, S. S., Bottjer, S. W. (1999). Development of topography within song control circuitry of zebra finches during the sensitive period for song learning. Journal of Neuroscience. Vol. 19, pp. 6037-6057.
    • Award for Faculty-to-Faculty Mentoring, Mellon Mentoring Program, 2009
    • Elected Fellow, AAAS, 2008
    • Director of “Neural Systems & Behavior” course, MBL, 2004-2007
    • Plenary Speaker, International Congress of Neuroethology, 1996
    • C. and F. Demuth Swiss Medical Research Foundation International Award for Young Investigators in the Neurosciences, 1987
    • McKnight Scholar Award for Excellence in Neuroscience Research, 1985
    • National Research Service Award, Postdoctoral Fellowship, Brain Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles (Mental Health Training Program), 1980-1982