Part II: Motor theory of vocal learning origin
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In Part 1, Jarvis explains that vocal learning is the ability to hear a sound and repeat it. Only 5 groups of mammals (including humans) and 3 groups of birds (parrots, hummingbirds and songbirds) are capable of vocal learning. Jarvis and his lab members imaged changes in gene expression in bird’s brains after singing. They found that hummingbirds, songbirds and parrots each have pathways in specific areas of the brain that are not found in non-vocal learning birds. Interestingly, analogous networks exist in the human brain but not in non-vocal learning monkeys.
In Part 2, Jarvis proposes a mechanism by which vocal learning may have evolved. He suggests that the brain areas that control vocal learning are the result of a duplication of a pre-existing neural circuit that controls motor movement. A similar duplication event may have occurred during the evolution of humans with the result that both humans and Snowball, a cockatoo, can sing and dance to a beat!
In Jarvis’ third talk, he demonstrates that the brain pathways necessary for vocal learning are associated with the expression of particular axonal guidance genes. He also proposes that the evolutionary events responsible for the development of vocal learning may be a general mechanism for the development of other complex behavioral traits.
Erich Jarvis was a high school student at the School of the Performing Arts in New York City. Upon graduation, he had to choose between continuing as a dancer and becoming a scientist. He chose science. Jarvis pursued his undergraduate degree at Hunter College where he found that the discipline and creativity of his dance training were equally applicable to scientific study. Jarvis went on to do graduate and postdoctoral work at Rockefeller University where he made his first studies of songbird learning.
Jarvis is currently an Associate Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. His lab studies how the brain controls complex behaviors. To this end, they study the molecular pathways involved in vocal learning in songbirds. Jarvis has received numerous awards and honors for his work including an NSF Alan T. Waterman Award and an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award.
- Mu-ming Poo iBioSeminar: Learning and memory: From synapse to perception
- Eve Marder iBioSeminar: Circuit dynamics: An introduction to central pattern generators
- Erich Jarvis iBioMagazine: Song and Dance
Neural systems for vocal learning in birds and humans: a synopsis.
Jarvis ED. J Ornithol. 2007 Dec 1;148(1):35-44.
Molecular mapping of movement-associated areas in the avian brain: a motor theory for vocal learning origin.
Feenders G, Liedvogel M, Rivas M, Zapka M, Horita H, Hara E, Wada K, Mouritsen H, Jarvis ED.
PLoS One. 2008 Mar 12;3(3):e1768.
Behaviorally Regulated mRNA and Protein Expression in the Songbird Brain. Rivas MV, Jarvis ED.
In: Alzate O, editor. Neuroproteomics. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press; 2010. Chapter 13.
Dopamine regulation of human speech and bird song: A critical review.
Simonyan K, Horwitz B, Jarvis ED. Brain Lang. 2012 Jan 25.