A gene implicated in human language affects song learning in songbirds

Dec 04, 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: Dairy farms asked to consider breeding no-horn cows

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

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

Mar 06, 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 ...

No easy answers in evolution of human language

Feb 17, 2008

The evolution of human speech was far more complex than is implied by some recent attempts to link it to a specific gene, says Robert Berwick, professor of computational linguistics at MIT.

Recommended for you

Dairy farms asked to consider breeding no-horn cows

Mar 28, 2015

Food manufacturers and restaurants are taking the dairy industry by the horns on an animal welfare issue that's long bothered activists but is little known to consumers: the painful removal of budding horn ...

Italian olive tree disease stumps EU

Mar 27, 2015

EU member states are divided on how to stop the spread of a disease affecting olive trees in Italy that could result in around a million being cut down, officials said Friday.

China starts relocating endangered porpoises: Xinhua

Mar 27, 2015

Chinese authorities on Friday began relocating the country's rare finless porpoise population in a bid to revive a species threatened by pollution, overfishing and heavy traffic in their Yangtze River habitat, ...

A long-standing mystery in membrane traffic solved

Mar 27, 2015

In 2013, James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman, and Thomas C. Südhof won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of molecular machineries for vesicle trafficking, a major transport ...

User comments : 0

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.