PerspectiveNeuroscience

Different origins for similar brain circuits

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Science  12 Feb 2021:
Vol. 371, Issue 6530, pp. 676-677
DOI: 10.1126/science.abf9551

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Summary

More than 320 million years ago, a reptile-like amniote ancestor abandoned aquatic habitats and fully adapted to life on land. This transition was arguably the most impactful event in vertebrate history and catalyzed evolutionary innovations. Soon after, sauropsids (birds and reptiles) diverged from the ancestors of mammals. Racing to survive in their new environments, birds and mammals evolved cognitive abilities unmatched by other vertebrates, such as vocal learning in songbirds and spoken language in humans. The evolution of the brain areas supporting these behaviors has been a dilemma for neuroscientists. On page 695 of this issue, Colquitt et al. (1) disentangle molecular similarities and differences between the song nuclei of birds and the cerebral cortex of mammals and propose that these brain areas have distinct evolutionary origins.

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