Not jesting: humans really do have "bird brains"


Not jesting: humans really do have

The term "bird brain" could be accurate for humans after all, as researchers reveal that the human brain has similar wiring to that of a bird, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers In Computational Neuroscience.

Researchers from Imperial College London in the UK have developed the first brain map of a typical bird. The map shows how different regions of the brain are connected in order to process information.

To create the map, the research team analyzed 34 studies of the anatomy of a pigeon's brain. They focused on the area of "hub nodes." These are important parts of the brain that process information and are particularly important for high-level cognition, the areas that deal with learning and instruction.

They also analyzed the "hippocampus" area of the pigeon brain, an area important for long-term memory and navigation in both birds and mammals.

Results of the study revealed that in both birds and other mammals, such as humans, the hub nodes had "very dense connections" to other parts of the brain. This suggests they work in a similar way.

Professor Murray Shanahan of the Department of Computing at Imperial College London, explained the study's findings to Medical-Diag.com:

If you look at the brains of mammals, including humans, cats, monkeys - they have got a similar organization when you analyze them under a microscope. But the brain of a bird, because we parted from them 300 million years ago on the evolutionary tree, looks completely different under a microscope. You haven't got the same collection of regions.

What our study has shown is that despite the differences when you look at these two types of brain, there are similarities in the way they are wired up and the way the connections are organized."

Prof. Shanahan says that this research will play an important part in developing further understanding of how the brain works:

"I am interested in trying to understand how the biological brain works on a deep level in terms of finding deep principles of operation. We have two very different types of brain that are both capable of doing smart things. If you have got a really deep theory, it is going to work for both birds and mammals and so this research is working towards that kind of deep theory of brain function."

Prof. Shanahan adds that due to his background in artificial intelligence and robotics, there is a long-term secondary aim to try and use the principles of this research to build a more intelligent robot.

As well as deepening the understanding of the human brain, Prof. Shanahan says that this research could potentially help to develop treatments of disorders related to brain activity. He says:

The subject of looking at connectivity is quite a hot topic in neuroscience. Certain disorders, such as alzheimer's and schizophrenia, do seem to be a disorder of connectivity and an abnormal kind of activity, so there does seem to be a potential route in treatments and understanding the disorder of connectivity."

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Section Issues On Medicine: Medical practice