Clarifying Promoter and Cell-Type Homologies Across Avian and Mammalian Taxa
Our project is aimed towards harnessing genetic tools used in mice for studying vocal learning and human speech disorders in songbirds. Songbirds are unparalleled models for understanding the neurobiology of human language acquisition, maintenance, and production. Songbirds, more so than mice and non-human primates, share similar anatomical and genetic properties with humans to execute this complex behavior. However, no current techniques exist in birds to allow for a robust understanding of vocal learning behavior at the molecular-cellular level. By exploiting the nature of cell type conservation and convergent evolution across species, we will assess well-characterized, mammalian promoters in the avian brain to isolate the functional properties of specific cell populations. With the right promoters, it will be possible to dissect and manipulate the brain circuits responsible for vocal learning in birds, using a variety of genetic tools. We can then extrapolate mechanisms to human brain regions responsible for speech and language, and provide insight into how genes are similarly regulated in distantly related species.