Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Birds and mammals share a common brain circuit for learning

Date:
May 19, 2010
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:
Bird song learning is a model system for studying the general principles of learning, but attempts to draw parallels between learning in birds and mammals have been difficult because of anatomical brain differences between the two species. A new study helps solve this problem, by identifying specific classes of neurons within the brains of songbirds and matching them to their mammalian counterparts.

New research identifies specific classes of neurons within the brains of songbirds and matching them to their mammalian counterparts.
Credit: Image courtesy Aaron Andalman/MIT

Bird song learning is a model system for studying the general principles of learning, but attempts to draw parallels between learning in birds and mammals have been difficult because of anatomical brain differences between the two species.

A new study from researchers at MIT and Hebrew University helps solve this problem, by identifying specific classes of neurons within the brains of songbirds and matching them to their mammalian counterparts.

The study focuses on the basal ganglia, brain structures that play a key role in skill learning and habit formation and are also linked to many disorders, including Parkinson's disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and drug addiction. Mammalian basal ganglia consist of several structures, including the striatum and the globus pallidus, both of which are centrally involved in Parkinson's disease.

There is growing evidence that similar brain circuits are also present in birds, in which these circuits appear to underlie song learning. In birds, however, there are no anatomical divisions, and the different basal ganglia cell types are intermixed within a tiny (~1mm) structure known as 'area X.' Jesse Goldberg and Michale Fee at MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research recorded electrical activity from individual neurons in the brains of young zebra finches, using a motorized microdrive to position the electrodes precisely within area X.

Based on their patterns of electrical activity while the birds were singing, the researchers identified two distinct classes of neurons that show different firing patterns. The researchers compared their recordings with the activity patterns recorded from the two known anatomical pathways in the monkey globus pallidus. Although firing rates are much faster in birds (up to 700 spikes per second, among the fastest of any neurons), the patterns are otherwise highly similar between the two species. Additionally, the researchers confirmed that one of the two classes in birds forms the same types of connections as their primate counterparts.

The new findings appear in the May 26 issue of Journal of Neuroscience. In a separate study, recently published in Journal of Neurophysiology, Goldberg and Fee reported that other neurons in area X exhibit activity similar to four known classes of neurons within the mammalian striatum.

"Our results strongly suggest that the same brain circuits underlie learning in birds and mammals, despite the superficial differences of anatomy," says Goldberg. "This circuit must have evolved at least 300 million years ago, before birds and mammals diverged."

Bird song learning is a very stereotyped form of learning and is an ideal model system in which to understand general principles that are involved with the learning of complex actions. The new findings support the idea that such lessons are likely to be relevant to human biology and to the treatment of human disorders such as Parkinson's disease.

Avital Adler and Hagain Bergman of Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem also contributed to the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, Damon Runyon Research Foundation, Charles King Trust, FP7, ICNC, and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The original article was written by Julie Pryor, McGovern Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Goldberg JH, Adler A, Bergman H, Fee MS. Singing-related neural activity distinguishes two putative pallidal cell types in the songbird basal ganglia: comparison to the primate internal and external pallidal segments. Journal of Neuroscience, 2010; [link]

Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Birds and mammals share a common brain circuit for learning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 May 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100518180850.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2010, May 19). Birds and mammals share a common brain circuit for learning. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100518180850.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Birds and mammals share a common brain circuit for learning." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100518180850.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) In a ruling attorneys for both sides agreed was a first of its kind, a Georgia appeals court said parents can be held liable for what kids put online. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

Buzz60 (Oct. 17, 2014) Feeling down? Reach for the refrigerator, not the medicine cabinet! TC Newman (@PurpleTCNewman) shares some of the best foods to boost your mood. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

Newsy (Oct. 15, 2014) Researchers claim they’ve diagnosed the first example of the disorder in a 31-year-old U.S. Navy serviceman. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Confirmed Case Of Google Glass Addiction

First Confirmed Case Of Google Glass Addiction

Buzz60 (Oct. 15, 2014) A Google Glass user was treated for Internet Addiction Disorder caused from overuse of the device. Morgan Manousos (@MorganManousos) has the details on how many hours he spent wearing the glasses, and what his symptoms were. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins