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Brain Pathways for Vocal Learning and Spoken Language

Weekly Seminar | Not Open to the Public
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Erich Jarvis' Photo
Laboratory of Neurogenetics of Language


Vocal learning is the most critical behavior for spoken language. It has evolved multiple independent times among mammals and birds. Remarkably, although all vocal learning species are distantly related and have closer relatives that are non-vocal learners, humans and the vocal learning birds have evolved convergent forebrain pathways that control vocal learning. We used comparative genomics and transcriptomics to discover convergent changes in multiple genes in song learning pathways in birds and speech pathways in humans. The vocal learning brain pathways have convergent specialized changes in genes that control connectivity, neuroprotection, and synaptic plasticity. We have found that specialized regulation is associated with convergent accelerated regions in the genomes of these species, which in turn have differential epigenetic availability in enhancer regions of some of the genes, inside the neurons of the vocal learning brain regions. To explain these findings, we propose a motor theory of vocal learning origin, in which brain pathways for vocal learning evolved by brain pathway duplication of an ancestral motor learning pathway, using mostly the same genes, but with some divergences in gene regulation via sequence and epigenetic changes, that control divergent connectivity and other functions.

Erich Jarvis' Figure


Multiple Authors
Towards complete and error-free genome assemblies of all vertebrate species
Erich D Jarvis
Evolution of vocal learning and spoken language
Science. 2019 Oct 4;366(6461):50-54. doi: 10.1126/science.aax0287.
Kyung Min Jung, Young Min Kim, Anna L Keyte, Matthew T Biegler, Deivendran Rengaraj, Hong Jo Lee, Claudio V Mello, Tarciso A F Velho, Olivier Fedrigo, Bettina Haase, Erich D Jarvis, Jae Yong Han
Identification and characterization of primordial germ cells in a vocal learning Neoaves species, the zebra finch
FASEB J . 2019 Dec;33(12):13825-13836. doi: 10.1096/fj.201900760RR. Epub 2019 Oct 11.


Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - 12:30pm


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Darlene White