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Poster D1, Thursday, November 9, 6:15 – 7:30 pm, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

von Economo and fork neurons in vocal forebrain nuclei of vocal learning birds : neural basis of Vocal learning and language

Shubha Srivastava1;1Kashi Naresh Government Post Graduate College, Gyanpur U P India

Vocal learning, the capability of modifying, memorizing and producing complex auditory and syntactic sounds, or imitating the new sounds, is an indispensable requirement of human spoken language. This capability is considered as a significant innovation for the evolutionary origin of the human verbal communication. Little attempt was made to link neural systems for vocal learning in birds and mammals with that for spoken language in humans because this talent is randomly distributed in both these taxa. To understand how evolution designed brain circuits for acquiring language and speech the avian brain has been used as a model as birds have been shown to be remarkably intelligent in a similar way to mammals such as humans and monkeys. A network organization of the vocal counterparts of the brain of a few Indian vocal learner birds like a Ringneck parrot, exceptional for oratory skill of human language and emotional makeup, budgerigar and songbirds have been investigated by Nissl staining, Golgi, and Neuroimaging methods. Dendritic neuroarchitecture of all the neuronal subtypes and their morphometry has also been examined.Results unveiled that their brain is organized very differently from the laminar cortex of mammals and other birds as well, but neuronal classes are remarkably similar to upper layers of the frontoinsular cortex of human and other vocal learning mammals. The detail anatomical investigation of compact vocal nuclei and their neuroarchitecture revealed the presence of some unusual, rare neuronal types, the von Economo neurons (VENs), fork cells and enveloping neurons with a typical pyramidal neurons in nidopallium caudolaterale, arcopallium and dorsolateral corticoid areas of the bird’s pallium; these cells have been noticed to date only in layer V of the frontal insular cortex of humans, a few primates and distantly related groups of mammals especially cetaceans (harbor seals, whale and dolphin) pinnipeds (walrus), pigmy hippopotamus , elephants, ring-tailed lemur, pig , deer, macaque monkey, rock hyrax, and zebra. Most of these vertebrates communicate acoustically, but a few, among them such as humans, dolphins, elephants, whales, and a few primates in which VENs are more abundant, larger and clustered can learn to produce elaborate patterns of vocalizations and to grasp the meaning of sound. While the other VENs containing animals are moderate and limited vocal learner and have numerically less and scattered VENs. These findings challenged the previous opinion that VENs are almost exclusive in hominids and large-brained animals, and appeared only recently during evolution on one hand and on the other hand it provides a new insight in the direction to understand that these neurons might in some way be related to the vocal production learning and language. Morphological alterations in these cells have also been associated with some neuropsychiatry and neurodegenerative disorder which affects language skills like- Dementia, Autism, and Alzheimer’ s. This study will also be useful to track that whether von Economo neurons might in some way be related to the disease process itself, and to gain insight for the treatment of language-related disorders.

Topic Area: Animal Communication

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