Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Shared ancestor to humans, present-day non-human primates may be linchpin in evolution of language

25.07.2006
When contemplating the coos and screams of a fellow member of its species, the rhesus monkey, or macaque, makes use of brain regions that correspond to the two principal language centers in the human brain, according to research conducted by scientists at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), two of the National Institutes of Health.

The finding, published July 23 in the advance online issue of Nature Neuroscience, bolsters the hypothesis that a shared ancestor to humans and present-day non-human primates may have possessed the key neural mechanisms upon which language was built. Principal collaborators on the study are Allen Braun, M.D., chief of NIDCD's Language Section, Alex Martin, Ph.D., chief of NIMH's Cognitive Neuropsychology Section, and Ricardo Gil-da-Costa, Gulbenkian Science Institute, Oeiras, Portugal, who conducted the study during a three-year joint appointment at the NIDCD and NIMH.

"This intriguing finding brings us closer to understanding the point at which the building blocks of language appeared on the evolutionary timeline," says James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIDCD. "While the fossil record cannot answer this question for us, we can turn to the here and now – through brain imaging of living non-human primates – for a glimpse into how language, or at least the neural circuitry required for language, came to be."

While non-human primates do not possess language, they are able to communicate about such things as food, identity, or danger to members of their species by way of vocalizations that are interpreted and acted upon. In humans, the two main regions of the brain that are involved in encoding this type of information in language are known as Broca's area and Wernicke's area, named for the physician-researchers who discovered them. Both areas are located along the Sylvian fissure (and are therefore referred to as perisylvian areas) with Broca's area located in the frontal lobe and Wernicke's area located behind it in the temporal and parietal lobes. Scientists once believed that Broca's area was chiefly involved in language production while Wernicke's area dealt more with comprehension, however current thinking suggests that the two areas work in tandem with one another. Although monkeys are not able to perform the mental activities required for language, their brains possess regions that are structurally similar to the perisylvian areas in humans in both hemispheres. The functional significance of such similarities, however, has been unclear up to this point.

To measure brain activity, the researchers injected water labeled with oxygen-15, a biologically safe, fast-degrading radioisotope, into the bloodstream of three adult macaques. As neural activity increases in a given region of the brain, blood – and the radioactive water it carries – rushes into that region. Using the brain imaging technology known as positron emission tomography (PET), researchers capture an image of the radioactive areas, thus highlighting the regions of heightened activity. In this way, brain scans were taken of the monkeys as they listened to three types of sounds: the recorded coos and screams of other rhesus monkeys, and assorted non-biological sounds, such as musical instruments and computer-synthesized sounds, which matched the vocalizations in frequency, rate, scale, and duration. For each monkey, 16 scans were recorded for each sound type and compared.

Although the coo of a monkey is acoustically very different from a high-pitched scream, the researchers found that both of these meaningful species-specific sounds elicited significantly more activity than the non-biological control stimuli in the same three regions of the macaque's brain. Moreover, these regions correspond to the key language centers in humans, with the ventral premotor cortex (PMv) corresponding to Broca's area, and the temporoparietal area (Tpt) and posterior parietal cortex (PPC) corresponding to Wernicke's area. In contrast, the non-biological sounds – which were acoustically similar to the coos and screams but had no meaning for the animals – elicited significantly less activity in these regions; rather, they were associated with greater activation of the brain's primary auditory areas. (The reason for this, the researchers suggest, is that these sounds were new to the monkeys and the primary auditory areas may be especially attuned to novel stimuli.)

Based on these findings, the researchers suggest that the communication centers in the brain of the last common ancestor to macaques and humans – particularly those centers used for interpreting species-specific vocalizations – may have been recruited during the evolution of language in humans. In the macaque, these areas may currently play a parallel, prelinguistic function, in which monkeys are able to assign meaning to species-specific sounds. In addition, in light of an earlier study published by the same group, in which species-specific vocalizations of macaques activated brain regions that process higher-order visual and emotional information, the researchers suggest that the language areas of the brain may have evolved from a much larger system used to extract meaning from socially relevant situations – a system in which humans and non-human primates may share similar neural pathways.

Further studies to be conducted include investigating which regions of the non-human primate brain are activated when animals listen to meaningful auditory stimuli other than species-specific vocalizations, such as a predators' calls, sounds made by humans, or other relevant environmental stimuli. In addition, they are interested in studying the pattern of brain activation elicited by non-auditory stimuli that convey the same meaning, such as visual images of monkeys producing vocalizations.

Jennifer Wenger | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nih.gov

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>