Night-vision brain area in migratory songbirds.

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2005-06-07

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Abstract

Twice each year, millions of night-migratory songbirds migrate thousands of kilometers. To find their way, they must process and integrate spatiotemporal information from a variety of cues including the Earth's magnetic field and the night-time starry sky. By using sensory-driven gene expression, we discovered that night-migratory songbirds possess a tight cluster of brain regions highly active only during night vision. This cluster, here named "cluster N," is located at the dorsal surface of the brain and is adjacent to a known visual pathway. In contrast, neuronal activation of cluster N was not increased in nonmigratory birds during the night, and it disappeared in migrants when both eyes were covered. We suggest that in night-migratory songbirds cluster N is involved in enhanced night vision, and that it could be integrating vision-mediated magnetic and/or star compass information for night-time navigation. Our findings thus represent an anatomical and functional demonstration of a specific night-vision brain area.

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10.1073/pnas.0409575102

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Mouritsen, Henrik, Gesa Feenders, Miriam Liedvogel, Kazuhiro Wada and Erich D Jarvis (2005). Night-vision brain area in migratory songbirds. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 102(23). pp. 8339–8344. 10.1073/pnas.0409575102 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/11227.

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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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