A gene implicated in human language affects song learning in songbirds

December 4, 2007

Do special “human” genes provide the biological substrate for uniquely human traits, like language" Genetic aberrations of the human FoxP2 gene impair speech production and comprehension, yet the relative contributions of FoxP2 to brain development and function are unknown. Songbirds are a useful model to address this because, like human youngsters, they learn to vocalize by imitating the sounds of their elders.

Previously, Dr. Constance Sharff and colleagues found that, when young zebra finches learn to sing or when adult canaries change their song seasonally, FoxP2 is up-regulated in Area X, a brain region important for song learning.

Published this week in the open-access journal PLoS Biology, Dr. Sebastian Haesler, Dr. Scharff, and colleagues experimentally reduce FoxP2 levels in Area X before zebra finches started to learn their song. They used a virus-mediated RNA interference for the first time in songbird brains.

The birds, with lowered levels of FoxP2, imitated their tutor’s song imprecisely and sang more variably than controls. FoxP2 thus appears to be critical for proper song development. These results suggest that humans and birds may employ similar molecular substrates for vocal learning, which can now be further analyzed in an experimental animal system.

Citation: Haesler S, Rochefort C, Georgi B, Licznerski P, Osten P, et al. (2007) Incomplete and inaccurate vocal imitation after knockdown of FoxP2 in songbird basal ganglianucleus Area X. PLoS Biol 5(12): e321. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050321 (www.plosbiology.org)

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: A bird's song may teach us about human speech disorders

Related Stories

A bird's song may teach us about human speech disorders

March 6, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Can the song of a small bird provide valuable insights into human stuttering and speech-related disorders and conditions, including autism and stroke? New research by UCLA life scientists and colleagues provides ...

Recommended for you

Timing a sextuple quasar

December 1, 2015

Quasars are galaxies with massive black holes at their cores around which vast amounts of energy are being radiated. Indeed, so much light is emitted that the nucleus of a quasar is much brighter than the rest of the entire ...

Cassini mission provides insight into Saturn

December 1, 2015

Scientists have found the first direct evidence for explosive releases of energy in Saturn's magnetic bubble using data from the Cassini spacecraft, a joint mission between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian ...

Trap-jaw ants exhibit previously unseen jumping behavior

December 1, 2015

A species of trap-jaw ant has been found to exhibit a previously unseen jumping behavior, using its legs rather than its powerful jaws. The discovery makes this species, Odontomachus rixosus, the only species of ant that ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.