Sarah London

Assistant Professor
Research Summary
We still don’t know what properties of the brain promote and limit the ability to learn although behaviorally, we observe individual, sex, and age differences in the long-term effects of experience. Memory formation requires that two major levels of neurobiology are coordinated 1) the presence of a subset of cells, or "ensemble," that are capable of participating in memory storage and 2) the triggering of appropriate molecular and genomic changes in response to experience. The challenges of placing molecular underpinnings of neural plasticity within cell populations that are engaged in memory formation are compounded by the need to behaviorally link cellular and molecular brain properties to the ability to learn. In the London Lab, we take advantage of a model system that has a Critical Period for sensory learning, the zebra finch songbird, to discover how epigenetic mechanisms, genomic regulation, molecular signaling, and cell subtypes contribute to the ability to learn complex natural behaviors. Because Critical Periods define restricted phases in development when an experience is optimally encoded in ways that have long-term consequences on brain function and behavioral patterns, we can meaningfully link neural properties before, during, and after the Critical Period to behavioral outcomes.
development, learning & memory, epigenetics, genomics, molecular signaling, critical period
  • Univ IL, Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, postdoc genomics, neuroscience 2011
  • UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, PhD neuroscience 2005
  • Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, BA biology & psychology 1997
Biosciences Graduate Program Association
  1. Towards complete and error-free genome assemblies of all vertebrate species. Nature. 2021 04; 592(7856):737-746. View in: PubMed

  2. Experience selectively alters functional connectivity within a neural network to predict learned behavior in juvenile songbirds. Neuroimage. 2020 11 15; 222:117218. View in: PubMed

  3. Gene manipulation to test links between genome, brain and behavior in developing songbirds: a test case. J Exp Biol. 2020 02 07; 223(Pt Suppl 1). View in: PubMed

  4. Inhibitory cell populations depend on age, sex, and prior experience across a neural network for Critical Period learning. Sci Rep. 2019 12 27; 9(1):19867. View in: PubMed

  5. An Acoustic Password Enhances Auditory Learning in Juvenile Brood Parasitic Cowbirds. Curr Biol. 2019 12 02; 29(23):4045-4051.e3. View in: PubMed

  6. The variability of song variability in zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) populations. R Soc Open Sci. 2019 May; 6(5):190273. View in: PubMed

  7. The promise of environmental neuroscience. Nat Hum Behav. 2019 05; 3(5):414-417. View in: PubMed

  8. Interhemispheric functional connectivity in the zebra finch brain, absent the corpus callosum in normal ontogeny. Neuroimage. 2019 07 15; 195:113-127. View in: PubMed

  9. A complex mTOR response in habituation paradigms for a social signal in adult songbirds. Learn Mem. 2018 06; 25(6):273-282. View in: PubMed

  10. Epigenetic regulation of transcriptional plasticity associated with developmental song learning. Proc Biol Sci. 2018 05 16; 285(1878). View in: PubMed

  11. Developmental song learning as a model to understand neural mechanisms that limit and promote the ability to learn. Behav Processes. 2019 Jun; 163:13-23. View in: PubMed

  12. Bidirectional manipulation of mTOR signaling disrupts socially mediated vocal learning in juvenile songbirds. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 08 29; 114(35):9463-9468. View in: PubMed

  13. A reliable and flexible gene manipulation strategy in posthatch zebra finch brain. Sci Rep. 2017 02 24; 7:43244. View in: PubMed

  14. Influences of non-canonical neurosteroid signaling on developing neural circuits. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2016 10; 40:103-110. View in: PubMed

  15. Shared neural substrates for song discrimination in parental and parasitic songbirds. Neurosci Lett. 2016 05 27; 622:49-54. View in: PubMed

  16. Loneliness: clinical import and interventions. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2015 Mar; 10(2):238-49. View in: PubMed

  17. Social information embedded in vocalizations induces neurogenomic and behavioral responses. PLoS One. 2014; 9(11):e112905. View in: PubMed

  18. Expression of androgen receptor in the brain of a sub-oscine bird with an elaborate courtship display. Neurosci Lett. 2014 Aug 22; 578:61-5. View in: PubMed

  19. Brain transcriptome sequencing and assembly of three songbird model systems for the study of social behavior. PeerJ. 2014; 2:e396. View in: PubMed

  20. Advancing avian behavioral neuroendocrinology through genomics. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2014 Jan; 35(1):58-71. View in: PubMed

  21. Genome-brain-behavior interdependencies as a framework to understand hormone effects on learned behavior. Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2013 Sep 01; 190:176-81. View in: PubMed

  22. Impact of experience-dependent and -independent factors on gene expression in songbird brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Oct 16; 109 Suppl 2:17245-52. View in: PubMed

  23. RNA-seq transcriptome analysis of male and female zebra finch cell lines. Genomics. 2012 Dec; 100(6):363-9. View in: PubMed

  24. The genome of a songbird. Nature. 2010 Apr 01; 464(7289):757-62. View in: PubMed

  25. The zebra finch neuropeptidome: prediction, detection and expression. BMC Biol. 2010 Apr 01; 8:28. View in: PubMed

  26. Neural expression and post-transcriptional dosage compensation of the steroid metabolic enzyme 17beta-HSD type 4. BMC Neurosci. 2010 Apr 01; 11:47. View in: PubMed

  27. Genomic and neural analysis of the estradiol-synthetic pathway in the zebra finch. BMC Neurosci. 2010 Apr 01; 11:46. View in: PubMed

  28. Integrating genomes, brain and behavior in the study of songbirds. Curr Biol. 2009 Sep 29; 19(18):R865-73. View in: PubMed

  29. Birdsong and the neural production of steroids. J Chem Neuroanat. 2010 Mar; 39(2):72-81. View in: PubMed

  30. Neurosteroid production in the songbird brain: a re-evaluation of core principles. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2009 Aug; 30(3):302-14. View in: PubMed

  31. Developmental shifts in gene expression in the auditory forebrain during the sensitive period for song learning. Dev Neurobiol. 2009 Jun; 69(7):437-50. View in: PubMed

  32. Functional identification of sensory mechanisms required for developmental song learning. Nat Neurosci. 2008 May; 11(5):579-86. View in: PubMed

  33. Proteomic analyses of zebra finch optic tectum and comparative histochemistry. J Proteome Res. 2007 Jun; 6(6):2341-50. View in: PubMed

  34. Steroidogenic enzymes along the ventricular proliferative zone in the developing songbird brain. J Comp Neurol. 2007 Jun 01; 502(4):507-21. View in: PubMed

  35. Proteomic analyses of songbird (Zebra finch; Taeniopygia guttata) retina. J Proteome Res. 2007 Mar; 6(3):1093-100. View in: PubMed

  36. Widespread capacity for steroid synthesis in the avian brain and song system. Endocrinology. 2006 Dec; 147(12):5975-87. View in: PubMed

  37. Neurosteroids and the songbird model system. J Exp Zool A Comp Exp Biol. 2006 Sep 01; 305(9):743-8. View in: PubMed

  38. Parallel FoxP1 and FoxP2 expression in songbird and human brain predicts functional interaction. J Neurosci. 2004 Mar 31; 24(13):3152-63. View in: PubMed

  39. Cloning of the zebra finch androgen synthetic enzyme CYP17: a study of its neural expression throughout posthatch development. J Comp Neurol. 2003 Dec 22; 467(4):496-508. View in: PubMed

  40. Neurosteroids and brain sexual differentiation. Trends Neurosci. 2001 Aug; 24(8):429-31. View in: PubMed

  41. Telencephalic aromatase but not a song circuit in a sub-oscine passerine, the golden collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus). Brain Behav Evol. 2000 Jun; 56(1):29-37. View in: PubMed