Neuroscience

Birds who can't carry a tune

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Science  13 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6262, pp. 784-785
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6262.784-b
PHOTO: FLPA/GIANPIERO FERRARI/CORBIS

Huntington's disease (HD) presents with a progressive decline of cognitive and motor functions, including speech impairments such as stuttering. Liu et al. have created the first transgenic songbirds by injecting zebra finch embryos with a lentivirus carrying human wild-type (WT) or mutant huntingtin. Young transgenic birds had difficulties in copying song elements from WT tutors when compared to WT youngsters, and their song was highly repetitive (stuttering). They also lost song complexity over time as adults. In these birds, the brain regions associated with song showed neuronal loss and accumulation of huntingtin protein similar to that observed in HD. Transgenic songbirds will be useful models for vocal disorders, because their vocal learning process is similar to that of humans.

Nat. Neurosci. 10.1038/nn.4133 (2015).

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