"My laboratory studies how the brain allows us to copy the sounds made by other individuals. We study songbirds because, like humans, they learn their vocalizations from other songbirds, resulting in culturally transmitted song types. We study the detailed neural circuits that allow songbirds to memorize a parent's song and practice to achieve a good copy. Brain structures involved in this process closely parallel those in mammals, so we believe we are studying general mechanisms of learning."


David J. Perkel, Ph.D., joined the University of Washington in 2000 and is currently professor in the Departments of Biology and Otolaryngology. He is also adjunct professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, and co-director of the Graduate Program in Neuroscience. Prior to joining UW, he earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of California at San Francisco and did postdoctoral research at the California Institute of Technology. From 1995-2000 he held a faculty position in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania.


Undergraduate Education: Harvard College, A.B., 1984

Graduate Education: Ph.D. in Neuroscience, University of California, San Francisco, 1992

Fellowship: Postdoctoral researcher, California Institute of Technology

Memberships: Society for Neuroscience, American Physiological Society, Association for Research in Otolaryngology

Awards and honors 

Virginia Merrill Bloedel Traveling Scholar Award
Invited Professor, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne
Scholar in Residence, University of Pennsylvania
Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

Academic interests 


Vocal learning in songbirds is an experimentally accessible model system for studying neural mechanisms of learning. We use multiple methodologies to dissect brain circuits involved in allowing birds to copy songs made by other birds, in a fashion similar to human speech learning.


Recent Publications

Stanchak KE, French C, Perkel DJ, Brunton BW. The Balance Hypothesis for the Avian Lumbosacral Organ and an Exploration of Its Morphological Variation., Integr Org Biol 2020 ; 2(1):obaa024

Tariq MF, Lewis SM, Lowell A, Moore S, Miles JT, Perkel DJ, Gire DH. Using Head-Mounted Ethanol Sensors to Monitor Olfactory Information and Determine Behavioral Changes Associated with Ethanol-Plume Contact during Mouse Odor-Guided Navigation., eNeuro ; 8(1):

Williams CA, Miller KE, Williams NP, Portfors CV, Perkel DJ. Distribution and co-expression of adrenergic receptor-encoding mRNA in the mouse inferior colliculus., J Comp Neurol 2021 06; 529(8):1743-1755

Champoux KL, Miller KE, Perkel DJ. Differential development of myelin in zebra finch song nuclei., J Comp Neurol 2021 04; 529(6):1255-1265

Miller KE, Wood WE, Brenowitz EA, Perkel DJ. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Has a Transsynaptic Trophic Effect on Neural Activity in an Adult Forebrain Circuit., J Neurosci 2020 02; 40(6):1226-1231