"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

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

Hoyt JM, Perkel DJ, Portfors CV. Dopamine Acts via D2-Like Receptors to Modulate Auditory Responses in the Inferior Colliculus., eNeuro ; 6(5):

Duffy A, Abe E, Perkel DJ, Fairhall AL. Variation in sequence dynamics improves maintenance of stereotyped behavior in an example from bird song., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2019 05; 116(19):9592-9597

Vaaga CE, Miller KE, Bodor ÁL, Perkel DJ. Expression of the potassium-chloride co-transporter, KCC2, within the avian song system., J. Comp. Neurol. 2018 04; 526(6):944-956

Budzillo A, Duffy A, Miller KE, Fairhall AL, Perkel DJ. Dopaminergic modulation of basal ganglia output through coupled excitation-inhibition., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2017 05; 114(22):5713-5718