Brain evolution by brain pathway duplication.

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Understanding the mechanisms of evolution of brain pathways for complex behaviours is still in its infancy. Making further advances requires a deeper understanding of brain homologies, novelties and analogies. It also requires an understanding of how adaptive genetic modifications lead to restructuring of the brain. Recent advances in genomic and molecular biology techniques applied to brain research have provided exciting insights into how complex behaviours are shaped by selection of novel brain pathways and functions of the nervous system. Here, we review and further develop some insights to a new hypothesis on one mechanism that may contribute to nervous system evolution, in particular by brain pathway duplication. Like gene duplication, we propose that whole brain pathways can duplicate and the duplicated pathway diverge to take on new functions. We suggest that one mechanism of brain pathway duplication could be through gene duplication, although other mechanisms are possible. We focus on brain pathways for vocal learning and spoken language in song-learning birds and humans as example systems. This view presents a new framework for future research in our understanding of brain evolution and novel behavioural traits.





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Chakraborty, Mukta, and Erich D Jarvis (2015). Brain evolution by brain pathway duplication. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 370(1684). 10.1098/rstb.2015.0056 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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