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: Suburban dugites and bobtails come under the microscope

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Unleashing the power of quantum dot triplets

32 minutes ago

Quantum computers have yet to materialise. Yet, scientists are making progress in devising suitable means of making such computers faster. One such approach relies on quantum dots—a kind of artificial atom, ...

Chemist develops X-ray vision for quality assurance

49 minutes ago

It is seldom sufficient to read the declaration of contents if you need to know precisely what substances a product contains. In fact, to do this you need to be a highly skilled chemist or to have genuine ...

The future of ultrashort laser pulses

58 minutes ago

Rapid advances in techniques for the creation of ultra-short laser pulses promise to boost our knowledge of electron motions to an unprecedented level.

Recommended for you

Noise pollution impacts fish species differently

28 minutes ago

Acoustic disturbance has different effects on different species of fish, according to a new study from the Universities of Bristol and Exeter which tested fish anti-predator behaviour.

Atomic structure of key muscle component revealed

28 minutes ago

Actin is the most abundant protein in the body, and when you look more closely at its fundamental role in life, it's easy to see why. It is the basis of most movement in the body, and all cells and components ...

Invertebrate numbers nearly halve as human population doubles

28 minutes ago

Invertebrate numbers have decreased by 45% on average over a 35 year period in which the human population doubled, reports a study on the impact of humans on declining animal numbers. This decline matters because of the enormous ...

User comments : 0