Interspecies avian brain chimeras reveal that large brain size differences are influenced by cell-interdependent processes.
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Like humans, birds that exhibit vocal learning have relatively delayed telencephalon maturation, resulting in a disproportionately smaller brain prenatally but enlarged telencephalon in adulthood relative to vocal non-learning birds. To determine if this size difference results from evolutionary changes in cell-autonomous or cell-interdependent developmental processes, we transplanted telencephala from zebra finch donors (a vocal-learning species) into Japanese quail hosts (a vocal non-learning species) during the early neural tube stage (day 2 of incubation), and harvested the chimeras at later embryonic stages (between 9-12 days of incubation). The donor and host tissues fused well with each other, with known major fiber pathways connecting the zebra finch and quail parts of the brain. However, the overall sizes of chimeric finch telencephala were larger than non-transplanted finch telencephala at the same developmental stages, even though the proportional sizes of telencephalic subregions and fiber tracts were similar to normal finches. There were no significant changes in the size of chimeric quail host midbrains, even though they were innervated by the physically smaller zebra finch brain, including the smaller retinae of the finch eyes. Chimeric zebra finch telencephala had a decreased cell density relative to normal finches. However, cell nucleus size differences between each species were maintained as in normal birds. These results suggest that telencephalic size development is partially cell-interdependent, and that the mechanisms controlling the size of different brain regions may be functionally independent.
Published Version (Please cite this version)
Chen, Chun-Chun, Evan Balaban and Erich D Jarvis (2012). Interspecies avian brain chimeras reveal that large brain size differences are influenced by cell-interdependent processes. PLoS One, 7(7). p. e42477. 10.1371/journal.pone.0042477 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9302.
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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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