Wan-chun Liu

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Wan-chun Liu

Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Neuroscience; Director, Neuroscience Program

Department/Office Information

Psychological and Brain Sciences, Neuroscience
112 Ho Science Center

Complex behaviors, such as speech or language learning, develop through a protracted process of interaction between genes and environment. How does this nature-nurture interplay shape the development of idiosyncratic learning strategy, cognitive function, and associated brain mechanisms? My research aims to investigate the genetic and environmental influence on vocal learning, communication, and its disorders. My lab uses a combination of evolutionary, behavioral, molecular genetic, and neuroanatomical approaches to examine these questions. In my lab, songbirds are used as an animal model for a comparative approach due to the many parallels between vocal learning in songbirds and language learning in humans. These parallels provide songbirds a great model to manipulate the genetic and neural mechanisms that underlie vocal communication and its brain circuitry.  

For genetic study, we use various genetic tools to identify neural circuits and manipulate genes of interest in live animals, and we will create songbird transgenesis by inserting mutated or modified foreign genes into the songbird genome to determine the role of those genes on the development of vocal communication or language-associated disorder. For example, we are investigating the neural and genetic basis of speech disorders and social dysfunction caused by neurodegenerative disorders or developmental disorders.

To identify environmental influence on song circuit development, my lab investigates the effect of prenatal or early postnatal experience on the development of vocal communication and brain circuits. For example, how the prenatal or postnatal social environment affect later development of vocal learning, social cognition, and brain circuit plasticity.  

Students in my lab will have a great opportunity to explore and integrate different scientific disciplines from behavior, neuroanatomy, to molecular genetics.


Liu, W.-c., **Cealie, M. **MacKillop, I. and Landstrom, M. 2022. A juvenile locomotor program promotes vocal learning. Communications Biology 10.1038/s42003-022-03533-3

Hayase, S; Kobayashi, M; Mori, C; Liu, W-c; Wada, K. 2021. Seasonal regulation of singing-driven gene expression associated with song plasticity in the canary, an open-ended vocal learner. Molecular Brain: 14: 160. 

Liu, W.-c., Landstrom, M **Schutt, G., **Inserra, M., **Fernandez, F.. 2021. A memory-driven auditory program ensures precise vocal imitation. Communications Biology 10.1038/s42003-021-02601-4. 

Antonson, N., Rivera, M., Liu, W.-c., and Hauber, M.E. 2021. Early auditory experience alters genome-wide methylation in the auditory forebrain of songbird embryos. Neuroscience Letters. 755:135917. 

Searfoss, A., Liu, W.-c., Creanza, N. 2020. Detecting diel patterns in Chipping Sparrow song using citizen-science data. J. Field Ornithol. 91(3): 263-274. 

Searfoss, A., Liu, W.-c., Creanza, N. 2020. Geographically well-distributed citizen science data reveals range-wide variation in the chipping sparrow's simple song. Anim. Behav. 161:63-76. 

Rivera, M., *Cealie, M., Hauber, M.E., Liu, W.-c., 2019. Neural activation in response to conspecific songs in zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) embryos and nestlings. Neuroreport. 30: 217-221.

Hayase, S., Ohgushi, E., Kobayashi, M., Mori, C., Horita, H., Mineta, Liu, W.-c., K. Wada, K. 2018. Vocal practice regulates singing activity-dependent genes underlying age-independent vocal learning in songbirds. PLoS Biology 16(9):e2006537

Rivera, M., Louder, M.I.M., Kleidorfer, S. Liu. W.-c. Hauber, M.E. 2018. Avian prenatal auditory stimulation: progress and perspectives. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 72:112.  

Mori, C., Liu, W.-c., Wada, K. 2018. Recurrent development of song idiosyncrasy without auditory inputs in the canary, an open-ended vocal learner. Scientific Reports. 8: 8732.

Liu, W.-c., Hruska-Plochan, M., Miyanohara, A. 2017. Lentiviral-Mediated Transgenesis in Songbirds. In: Avian and Reptilian Developmental Biology (Methods Molecular Biology, Editor: Sheng G.). Springer. 

Liu, W.–c., Kohn, J., Swzed, S., Pariser, E., Haripal, B., Sepe, S., Masala, M., Miyanohara, A., and Lee, R. 2015. Human mutant huntingtin disrupts vocal learning in transgenic songbirds. Nature Neuroscience.18:1617-22. [ResearchGate]

Liu, W. -c., Rivers, J., and White, D. 2015. Vocal matching and intensity of begging calls are associated with a forebrain song circuit in a generalist brood parasite. Developmental Neurobiology. 76:615-25. [ResearchGate]

Liu, W. -c., Wada, K., Jarvis, E. D., and Nottebohm, F. 2013. Rudimentary neural substrates for vocal learning in a suboscine. Nature Communications. 4:2082.[ResearchGate]

Wada, K., Hayase, S., Imai, R., Mori, C., Kobayashi, M., Liu, W.-C., and Okanoya, K. 2013. Variation in gene expression and DNA methylation state in wild and domesticated songbird strains. European Journal of Neuroscience. 38:2600-10.

Horita, H, Kobayashi, M., W.-c. Liu, Oka, K., E D. Jarvis, K. Wada. 2012. Specialized motor-driven dusp1 expression in the song systems of separate lineages of vocal learning birds. PLoS One. 7(8): e42173.

Nottebohm, F, and W.-c., Liu. 2010. The origins of vocal learning: New sounds, new circuits, new cells. Brain and Language (edited by Small, S.L.): 105 (1) 3-17.[ResearchGate]

Liu, W.-c., Wada, K., and F. Nottebohm. 2009. Variable food begging calls are harbingers of vocal learning. PloS ONE. 4(6):e5959. [ResearchGate]

Liu, W.-c., and F. Nottebohm. 2007. A learning program that ensures fast and versatile vocal imitation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 104:10498-10503. [ResearchGate]

Liu, W-c., and Kroodsma, D. 2006. Song learning by chipping sparrows: when, where, and from whom. Condor 108: 509-517. [ResearchGate]

Liu, W-c. 2006. Dawn and daytime singing behavior of chipping sparrows. Auk 124:[ResearchGate]

Liu, W-c., and Nottebohm, F. 2005. Variable rate of singing and variable song duration are associated with high IEG expression in two song nuclei of the anterior forebrain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 102(30): 10724-29.

Liu, W-c., Gardner T.J., and Nottebohm, F. 2004. Juvenile zebra finches can use multiple strategies to learn the same song. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 101:18177-82.[ResearchGate]

Liu, W-c., 2004. The effect of neighbours and females on dawn and daytime singing behaviours by chipping sparrows. Animal Behaviour 68: 57-66. [ResearchGate]

  • BA (Agriculture Chemistry), National Chung-Hsin University, Taiwan
  • PhD (Biology), University of Massachusetts at Amherst