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 reason for optimism.
The scientists discovered that some 2,000 genes in a region of the male zebra finch's brain known as "Area X" are significantly linked to singing. More than 1,500 genes in this region, a critical part of the bird's song circuitry, are being reported for the first time. Previously, a group of scientists including the UCLA team had identified some 400 genes in Area X. All the genes' levels of expression change when the bird sings.
"We did not know before that all of these genes are regulated by singing," said Stephanie White, a UCLA associate professor of integrative biology and physiology and senior author of the new study. She believes the 2,000 genes at least some of which she believes are also shared by humans are likely important for human speech.
The research is published in the online edition of the journal Neuron, a leading neuroscience journal, and will appear in an upcoming print edition.
"A method that (UCLA co-author) Steve Horvath developed lets us see what genes are changing together and, therefore, which genes are linked in a network," White said. "We can see which are the hub genes that are the most connected to other genes, as in a social network the popular kids. We can also identify the genetic equivalent of the lonely kids. Steve's analysis lets us group the genes together and see who is interacting with whom."
Many more genes are involved in vocalization than scientists had previously known. While language is uniquely human, it has components such as the ability to create new sounds that songbirds and other animals share with us. The zebra finch may create new sounds using the same genes as humans, said White, who is also a member of UCLA's Brain R
|Contact: Stuart Wolpert|
University of California - Los Angeles