Revised nomenclature for avian telencephalon and some related brainstem nuclei.


The standard nomenclature that has been used for many telencephalic and related brainstem structures in birds is based on flawed assumptions of homology to mammals. In particular, the outdated terminology implies that most of the avian telencephalon is a hypertrophied basal ganglia, when it is now clear that most of the avian telencephalon is neurochemically, hodologically, and functionally comparable to the mammalian neocortex, claustrum, and pallial amygdala (all of which derive from the pallial sector of the developing telencephalon). Recognizing that this promotes misunderstanding of the functional organization of avian brains and their evolutionary relationship to mammalian brains, avian brain specialists began discussions to rectify this problem, culminating in the Avian Brain Nomenclature Forum held at Duke University in July 2002, which approved a new terminology for avian telencephalon and some allied brainstem cell groups. Details of this new terminology are presented here, as is a rationale for each name change and evidence for any homologies implied by the new names. Revisions for the brainstem focused on vocal control, catecholaminergic, cholinergic, and basal ganglia-related nuclei. For example, the Forum recognized that the hypoglossal nucleus had been incorrectly identified as the nucleus intermedius in the Karten and Hodos (1967) pigeon brain atlas, and what was identified as the hypoglossal nucleus in that atlas should instead be called the supraspinal nucleus. The locus ceruleus of this and other avian atlases was noted to consist of a caudal noradrenergic part homologous to the mammalian locus coeruleus and a rostral region corresponding to the mammalian A8 dopaminergic cell group. The midbrain dopaminergic cell group in birds known as the nucleus tegmenti pedunculopontinus pars compacta was recognized as homologous to the mammalian substantia nigra pars compacta and was renamed accordingly; a group of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic neurons at the lateral edge of this region was identified as homologous to the mammalian substantia nigra pars reticulata and was also renamed accordingly. A field of cholinergic neurons in the rostral avian hindbrain was named the nucleus pedunculopontinus tegmenti, whereas the anterior nucleus of the ansa lenticularis in the avian diencephalon was renamed the subthalamic nucleus, both for their evident mammalian homologues. For the basal (i.e., subpallial) telencephalon, the actual parts of the basal ganglia were given names reflecting their now evident homologues. For example, the lobus parolfactorius and paleostriatum augmentatum were acknowledged to make up the dorsal subdivision of the striatal part of the basal ganglia and were renamed as the medial and lateral striatum. The paleostriatum primitivum was recognized as homologous to the mammalian globus pallidus and renamed as such. Additionally, the rostroventral part of what was called the lobus parolfactorius was acknowledged as comparable to the mammalian nucleus accumbens, which, together with the olfactory tubercle, was noted to be part of the ventral striatum in birds. A ventral pallidum, a basal cholinergic cell group, and medial and lateral bed nuclei of the stria terminalis were also recognized. The dorsal (i.e., pallial) telencephalic regions that had been erroneously named to reflect presumed homology to striatal parts of mammalian basal ganglia were renamed as part of the pallium, using prefixes that retain most established abbreviations, to maintain continuity with the outdated nomenclature. We concluded, however, that one-to-one (i.e., discrete) homologies with mammals are still uncertain for most of the telencephalic pallium in birds and thus the new pallial terminology is largely devoid of assumptions of one-to-one homologies with mammals. The sectors of the hyperstriatum composing the Wulst (i.e., the hyperstriatum accessorium intermedium, and dorsale), the hyperstriatum ventrale, the neostriatum, and the archistriatum have been renamed (respectively) the hyperpallium (hypertrophied pallium), the mesopallium (middle pallium), the nidopallium (nest pallium), and the arcopallium (arched pallium). The posterior part of the archistriatum has been renamed the posterior pallial amygdala, the nucleus taeniae recognized as part of the avian amygdala, and a region inferior to the posterior paleostriatum primitivum included as a subpallial part of the avian amygdala. The names of some of the laminae and fiber tracts were also changed to reflect current understanding of the location of pallial and subpallial sectors of the avian telencephalon. Notably, the lamina medularis dorsalis has been renamed the pallial-subpallial lamina. We urge all to use this new terminology, because we believe it will promote better communication among neuroscientists. Further information is available at





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Publication Info

Reiner, Anton, David J Perkel, Laura L Bruce, Ann B Butler, András Csillag, Wayne Kuenzel, Loreta Medina, George Paxinos, et al. (2004). Revised nomenclature for avian telencephalon and some related brainstem nuclei. J Comp Neurol, 473(3). pp. 377–414. 10.1002/cne.20118 Retrieved from

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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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