Director of Undergraduate Neuroscience Interdepartmental Program (UNSIDP)
William Scheibel Endowed Chair in Neuroscience
Office: 1028 TLSB
Phone: (310) 794-1888
Our capacity for language is near or at the essence of what makes us human. How this trait evolved is puzzling given that non-human primates can't learn their vocalizations. (In the wild, adult chimps sound much like baby chimps but with deeper voices.) Precursor Homo groups speaking precursors to language no longer exist. My research group focuses on one aspect of language: the ability of youngsters to listen to and compare their own vocalizations to those of adults and thereby move from babbling to pronouncing interpretable sounds. For this we study songbirds and ask how the puzzle pieces of their brains fit together to accomplish vocal mimicry. We currently focus on a molecule known as FoxP2 that, when disrupted in humans or birds, disrupts speech or song, respectively. FoxP2 connects to the network of molecules that together enable learned vocal communication. We are investigating the functional role of FoxP2 in song and at synapses in the underlying control circuitry. We are also investigating the network of molecules downstream of FOXP2 and their role in disorders of speech including in autism.
B.S., Biopsychology, Connecticut College
Ph.D., Neuroscience, Stanford University
Fraley ER, Burkett ZD, Day NF, Schwartz BA, Phelps PE & White SA, “Mice with Dab1 or Vldlr insufficiency exhibit abnormal neonatal vocalization patterns”, Scientific Reports, 6 : 25807- (2016) .
Berg JM, Lee C, Chen L, Galvan L, Cepeda C, Chen JY, Penagarkano O, Stein JL, Li A, Oguro-Ando A, Miller JA, Vahisht AA, Starks ME, Kite EP, Al-Sharif NB, Burkett ZD, White SA, Fears SC, Levine MS, Wohlschlegel JA & Geschwind DG, “JAKMIP1 links regulation of neuronal protein translation to autism”, Neuron, 88 : 1173-1191 (2015) .
*Miller JE, *Hafzalla G, Burkett ZD, Fox CM & White SA, “Dopamine depletion in basal ganglia song nucleus reduces vocal variability in adult male zebra finches”, Physiological Reports, 3 : e12599- (2015) .
Hara E, Perez J, Whitney O, Chen Q, White SA & Wright T, “Neural FoxP2 and FoxP1 expression in the budgerigar, an avian species with adult vocal learning”, Behavioral Brain Research, 283 : 22-29 (2015) .
Heston JB & White SA, “Behavior-linked FoxP2 regulation enables zebra finch vocal learning”, Journal of Neuroscience, 35 : 2885-2894 (2015) .
Whitney O, Voyles T, Hara E, Chen Q, White SA & Wright T, “Differential FoxP2 and FoxP1 expression in a vocal learning nucleus of the developing budgerigar”, Developmental Neurobiology, 75 : 778-790 (2015) .
Hilliard AT*, Miller JE*, Fraley ER, Horvath S & White SA, “Molecular microcircuitry underlies the functional specification of a basal ganglia circuit dedicated to vocal learning”, Neuron, 73 : 537-552 (2012) .
White, S.A., “Genes and vocal learning”, Brain and Language, 115 : 21-28 (2011) .
Panaitof, S.C., Abrahams, B.S., Dong, H., Geschwind, D.H. and White, S.A., “Language-related Cntnap2 gene is differentially expressed in sexually dimorphic nuclei essential for vocal learning in songbirds”, Journal of Comparative Neurology, 5 : 1995-2018 (2010) .
Miller, J.E., Hilliard, A.T. and White, S.A., “Song practice promotes acute vocal variability during sensorimotor learning”, PLoS ONE, 5 : e8592- (2010) .
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