DENVER, CO - As the late novelist Joseph Conrad once suggested, people may indeed have more in common with vocal-learning birds like songbirds and parrots than we have previously assumed.
In songbirds capable of vocal learning, or imitating the sounds they hear, new findings reveal a highly specialized pattern in the genetic expression of certain brain receptors. These same receptors for the neurotransmitter, glutamate, are also found in mammals, neurobiologist Erich D. Jarvis noted during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
If further research shows the same specialized receptor pattern in people, the research may help pinpoint the brain's precise language centers-a first step toward better understanding language loss associated with strokes, lesions or head injuries. The work, by Jarvis, his student and first author Kazuhiro Wada at Duke University and colleagues Hironobu Sakaguchi and Masatoshi Hagiwara in Japan, is now pending review by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"Although it might seem far fetched, I would not be surprised if these ancient receptors could someday help us identify the entire system of brain regions for vocal learning and language in humans in a way that hasn't been done before," said Jarvis, an assistant professor in Duke's Department of Neurobiology.
Like a modern-day Dr. Doolittle, Jarvis-winner of the prestigious Alan T. Waterman Award, the National Science Foundation's highest honor for a young scientist or engineer-seeks to understand animal "language." He's investigating what structures and molecular events in the brain give six grou