Like humans, songbirds learn their vocalizations, suggesting they could be useful as models for certain disorders
Date:October 5, 2015
Many neurological disorders can rob someone of the ability to speak clearly, causing them to stutter, mispronounce words, and struggle to put together coherent sentences. However, the molecular and neurological dysfunctions that cause these symptoms aren't well understood.
Recent work at The Rockefeller University may give researchers a new tool to better study these vocal and speech impairments, particularly in Huntington's disease.
"There hasn't been a good animal model for any kind of speech disorder," says study author Wan-chun Liu, a senior research associate in Fernando Nottebohn's Laboratory of Animal Behavior. "Rats and mice, the most common lab animals, can't tell us much about speech disorders, since their vocalizations are innate, not learned. That's what makes songbirds so special." The research is described in a paper published on October 5 in Nature Neuroscience.
Like humans, songbirds and a few other types of birds can learn vocalizations. Liu used one such songbird, zebra finches, which are small, red-beaked birds common in pet stores, for the foundation of his research on neurodegeneration.