Program

Contributed Symposium
CS29-22-2

Evolution of brain and genes for vocal learning and spoken language

[Speaker] Jarvis, Erich D:1
1:Duke University Medical Center/HHMI (United States of America)

Vocal learning is a rare trait critical for song in song-learning birds and spoken-language in humans. We found that song-learning birds and humans have convergent forebrain pathways that control learning and production of learned sounds. This convergent anatomy and behavior is associated with convergent changes in multiple genes that control neural connectivity and brain development, some when mutated are associated with speech deficits. Non-human primates and vocal non-learning birds have limited to no forebrain vocal pathways, but possess motor learning pathways for other behaviors. To explain these findings, I 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. Once a vocal learning circuit is established, it functions similarly as the adjacent motor learning circuits, but with divergences in neural connectivity. This is a mechanism for evolution of brain pathways for complex behaviors generally.
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