Sunday, December 18, 2011

neurobiology of vocal communication

Duke | 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. We use an integrative approach that combines behavioral, anatomical and molecular biological techniques. The main animal model used is songbirds, one of the few vertebrate groups that evolved the ability to learn their 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 the tropical forests 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 forebrain nuclei that are in almost identical brain locations. 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. Future work will address: 1) the function of the basal ganglia in vocal communication; 2) the evolution of vocal communication; 3) the molecules responsible for the formation of vocal/auditory memories; 4) the links between electrophysiological activity and gene activation, and 5) the relationships between songbirds vocalizations and human language. The overall goal of the research is to advance our knowledge of the neural mechanisms for vocal learning as well as basic mechanisms of brain function. These goals will be 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 vocal communication.


Big Don said...

We figured that if this be the straight-up truth, then someone by now must have taught a parrot to rap.
Sure 'nuff  ------->

CNu said...

That cockatoo doesn't do a lick of rapping BD, but he IS a dancing fool. We were fully aware of such matters quite some time ago and asked about the relationship between dancing and vocal mimicry.