Morgan Wirthlin

Morgan Wirthlin
Allen Institute for Brain Science

Ph.D.

About

37
Publications
13,953
Reads
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2,259
Citations
Introduction
How are learned behaviors - such as the ability to speak and sing - encoded in our genes? How do complex behaviors evolve across diverse species over millions of years? I seek to understand the evolution of complex behaviors through a synthesis of comparative genomics and experimental neurobiology, with the goal of adapting these cutting edge techniques for use in non-model species and field settings. BA in Biological Sciences, University of Chicago (2009). PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience, Oregon Health & Science University (2016). I currently hold the BrainHub postdoctoral fellowship in Carnegie Mellon's Computational Biology Department.
Additional affiliations
August 2016 - present
Carnegie Mellon University
Position
  • Brainhub Postdoctoral Fellow
July 2010 - June 2016
Oregon Health and Science University
Position
  • Graduate Researcher
Description
  • Dissertation, "Evolutionary Neurogenomic Approaches Provide Insight into the Molecular Basis of Vocal Learning."

Publications

Publications (37)
Article
Full-text available
Recent discoveries of extreme cellular diversity in the brain warrant rapid development of technologies to access specific cell populations within heterogeneous tissue. Available approaches for engineering-targeted technologies for new neuron subtypes are low yield, involving intensive transgenic strain or virus screening. Here, we present Specific...
Article
Full-text available
Background Evolutionary conservation is an invaluable tool for inferring functional significance in the genome, including regions that are crucial across many species and those that have undergone convergent evolution. Computational methods to test for sequence conservation are dominated by algorithms that examine the ability of one or more nucleot...
Article
Medium spiny neurons (MSNs) constitute the vast majority of striatal neurons and the principal interface between dopamine reward signals and functionally diverse cortico-basal ganglia circuits. Information processing in these circuits is dependent on distinct MSN types: cell types that are traditionally defined according to their projection targets...
Article
Full-text available
Recent large genome-wide association studies have identified multiple confident risk loci linked to addiction-associated behavioral traits. Most genetic variants linked to addiction-associated traits lie in noncoding regions of the genome, likely disrupting cis-regulatory element (CRE) function. CREs tend to be highly cell type-specific and may con...
Article
Full-text available
A Correction to this paper has been published: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03473-8.
Preprint
Full-text available
Recent discoveries of extreme cellular diversity in the brain warrant rapid development of technologies to access specific cell populations, enabling characterization of their roles in behavior and in disease states. Available approaches for engineering targeted technologies for new neuron subtypes are low-yield, involving intensive transgenic stra...
Preprint
Full-text available
Background Evolutionary conservation is an invaluable tool for inferring functional significance in the genome, including regions that are crucial across many species and those that have undergone convergent evolution. Computational methods to test for sequence conservation are dominated by algorithms that examine the ability of one or more nucleot...
Article
Full-text available
Whole-genome sequencing projects are increasingly populating the tree of life and characterizing biodiversity1,2,3,4. Sparse taxon sampling has previously been proposed to confound phylogenetic inference5, and captures only a fraction of the genomic diversity. Here we report a substantial step towards the dense representation of avian phylogenetic...
Article
Full-text available
How the evolution of complex behavioral traits is associated with the emergence of novel brain pathways is largely unknown. Songbirds, like humans, learn vocalizations via tutor imitation and possess a specialized brain circuitry to support this behavior. In a comprehensive in situ hybridization effort, we show that the zebra finch vocal robust nuc...
Preprint
The striatum is the neural interface between dopamine reward signals and cortico-basal ganglia circuits responsible for value assignments, decisions, and actions. Medium spiny neurons (MSNs) make up the vast majority of striatal neurons and are traditionally classified as two distinct types: direct- and indirect-pathway MSNs. The direct- and indire...
Preprint
Full-text available
Recent large genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified multiple confident risk loci linked to addiction-associated behavioral traits. Genetic variants linked to addiction-associated traits lie largely in non-coding regions of the genome, likely disrupting cis-regulatory element (CRE) function. CREs tend to be highly cell type-specific...
Article
Summary: Diverse traits have evolved through cis-regulatory changes in genome sequence that influence the magnitude, timing, and cell type-specificity of gene expression. Advances in high-throughput sequencing and regulatory genomics have led to the identification of regulatory elements in individual species, but these genomic regions remain diffic...
Article
Full-text available
An in-depth understanding of the genetics and evolution of brain function and behavior requires detailed mapping of gene expression in functional brain circuits across major vertebrate clades. Here we present the Zebra finch Expression Brain Atlas (ZEBrA; www.zebrafinchatlas.org, RRID: SCR_012988), a web-based resource that maps the expression of g...
Article
Full-text available
The arcopallium, a key avian forebrain region, receives inputs from numerous brain areas and is a major source of descending sensory and motor projections. While there is evidence of arcopallial subdivisions, the internal organization or the arcopallium is not well understood. The arcopallium is also considered the avian homologue of mammalian deep...
Article
Full-text available
Objectives: Zebra finches are a major model organism for investigating mechanisms of vocal learning, a trait that enables spoken language in humans. The development of cDNA collections with expressed sequence tags (ESTs) and microarrays has allowed for extensive molecular characterizations of circuitry underlying vocal learning and production. How...
Article
Full-text available
Background: The ability to imitate the vocalizations of other organisms, a trait known as vocal learning, is shared by only a few organisms, including humans, where it subserves the acquisition of speech and language, and 3 groups of birds. In songbirds, vocal learning requires the coordinated activity of a set of specialized brain nuclei referred...
Article
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The importance of the Gallus gallus (chicken) as a model organism and agricultural animal merits a continuation of sequence assembly improvement efforts. We present a new version of the chicken genome assembly (Gallus_gallus-5.0; GCA_000002315.3) built from combined long single molecule sequencing technology, finished BACs, and improved physical ma...
Article
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Hron et al. provide transcriptome evidence that three (1.1 %) of the 274 genes reported by Lovell et al. as missing in birds may actually be ‘hidden’ as a result of high GC content. Although this factor may explain some gene absences from genomic assemblies, we believe it is insufficient to account for the extensive syntenic losses described in Lov...
Article
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The memorization and production of song in songbirds share important parallels with the process of speech acquisition in humans. In songbirds, these processes are dependent on a group of specialized telencephalic nuclei known as the song system: HVC (used as a proper name), RA (robust nucleus of arcopallium), LMAN (lateral magnocellular nucleus of...
Article
Full-text available
Background Birds are one of the most highly successful and diverse groups of vertebrates, having evolved a number of distinct characteristics, including feathers and wings, a sturdy lightweight skeleton and unique respiratory and urinary/excretion systems. However, the genetic basis of these traits is poorly understood. Results Using comparative ge...
Article
Full-text available
To better determine the history of modern birds, we performed a genome-scale phylogenetic analysis of 48 species representing all orders of Neoaves using phylogenomic methods created to handle genome-scale data. We recovered a highly resolved tree that confirms previously controversial sister or close relationships. We identified the first divergen...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
In urban areas there are often several universities with thriving research and education programs in neuroscience, along with public schools teaching science to K-12 students. Yet despite a strong shared interest, these various students rarely interact. Here we describe a successful effort to involve them all in learning about the brain. There are...
Article
Full-text available
The zebra finch Taeniopygia guttata castanotis is a songbird commonly used in the laboratory, particularly for studies of vocal learning, neurobiology, and physiology. Within the laboratory, it is important to adopt careful husbandry practices that allow for normal development of the birds. For example, their song is a learned trait, passed cultura...
Conference Paper
Vocal learning and the presence of telencephalic circuitry that controls the production and acquisition of learned vocalizations are distinct characteristics of songbirds (oscine Passeriformes). In the search for genomic features that may be associated with the evolution and function of this brain circuitry, we performed an extensive analysis of th...
Conference Paper
At present, there are three independent lineages of birds—songbirds, parrots, and hummingbirds—that are known to learn their vocalizations. Each of these clades possesses a 'song circuit,' a system of interconnected forebrain nuclei that control this vocal learning behavior. The anatomical, physiological, and (to a lesser extent) molecular features...

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