Rudimentary substrates for vocal learning in a suboscine.

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2013

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Abstract

Vocal learning has evolved in only a few groups of mammals and birds. The key neuroanatomical and behavioural links bridging vocal learners and non-learners are still unknown. Here we show that a non-vocal-learning suboscine, the eastern phoebe, expresses neural and behavioural substrates that are associated with vocal learning in closely related oscine songbirds. In phoebes, a specialized forebrain region in the intermediate arcopallium seems homologous to the oscine song nucleus RA (robust nucleus of arcopallium) by its neural connections, expression of glutamate receptors and singing-dependent immediate-early gene expression. Lesion of this RA-like region induces subtle but consistent song changes. Moreover, the unlearned phoebe song unexpectedly develops through a protracted ontogeny. These features provide the first evidence of forebrain vocal-motor control in suboscines, which has not been encountered in other avian non-vocal-learners, and offer a potential configuration of brain and behaviour from which vocal learning might have evolved.

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10.1038/ncomms3082

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Liu, Wan-chun, Kazuhiro Wada, Erich D Jarvis and Fernando Nottebohm (2013). Rudimentary substrates for vocal learning in a suboscine. Nat Commun, 4. p. 2082. 10.1038/ncomms3082 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/11205.

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Jarvis

Erich David Jarvis

Adjunct Professor in the Deptartment of Neurobiology

Dr. Jarvis' laboratory studies the neurobiology of vocal communication. Emphasis is placed on the molecular pathways involved in the perception and production of learned vocalizations. They use an integrative approach that combines behavioral, anatomical, electrophysiological and molecular biological techniques. The main animal model used is songbirds, one of the few vertebrate groups that evolved the ability to learn vocalizations. The generality of the discoveries is tested in other vocal learning orders, such as parrots and hummingbirds, as well as non-vocal learners, such as pigeons and non-human primates. Some of the questions require performing behavior/molecular biology experiments in freely ranging animals, such as hummingbirds in tropical forest of Brazil. Recent results show that in songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds, perception and production of song are accompanied by anatomically distinct patterns of gene expression. All three groups were found to exhibit vocally-activated gene expression in exactly 7 forebrain nuclei that are very similar to each other. These structures for vocal learning and production are thought to have evolved independently within the past 70 million years, since they are absent from interrelated non-vocal learning orders. One structure, Area X of the basal ganglia's striatum in songbirds, shows large differential gene activation depending on the social context in which the bird sings. These differences may reflect a semantic content of song, perhaps similar to human language.

The overall goal of the research is to advance knowledge of the neural mechanisms for vocal learning and basic mechanisms of brain function. These goals are further achieved by combined collaborative efforts with the laboratories of Drs. Mooney and Nowicki at Duke University, who study respectively behavior and electrophysiological aspects of songbird vocal communication.


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