Avian Phylogenomics Project

Convergent genes in human and songbird brains


Andreas R. Pfenning, Erina Hara, Osceola Whitney, Miriam V. Rivas, Rui Wang, Petra L. Roulhac, Jason T. Howard, Morgan Wirthlin, Peter V. Lovell, Ganeshkumar Ganapathy, Jacquelyn Mouncastle, M. Arthur Moseley, J. Will Thompson, Erik J. Soderblom, Atsushi Iriki, Masaki Kato, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Guojie Zhang, Trygve Bakken, Angie Bongaarts, Amy Bernard, Ed Lein, Claudio V. Mello, Alexander J. Hartemink, and Erich D. Jarvis Science, 'Convergent Transcriptional Specializations in the Brains of Humans and Song Learning Birds', Science (2014).


Song-learning birds and humans share independently evolved similarities in brain pathways for vocal learning that are essential for song and speech, not found in most other species. Comparisons of brain transcriptomes of song-learning birds and humans relative to vocal non-learners identified convergent gene expression specializations in specific song and speech brain regions of avian vocal learners and humans. The strongest shared profiles relate bird motor and striatal song learning nuclei respectively with human laryngeal motor cortex and parts of the striatum that control speech production and learning. Most of the associated genes function in motor control and brain connectivity. Thus, we identify analogous brain regions between song-learning birds and humans, and find that convergent behavior and neural connectivity for a complex trait is associated with convergent specialized expression of multiple genes.

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