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A unique cellular scaling rule in the avian auditory system


Although it is clear that neural structures scale with body size, the mechanisms of this relationship are not well understood. Several recent studies have shown that the relationship between neuron numbers and brain (or brain region) size are not only different across mammalian orders, but also across auditory and visual regions within the same brains. Among birds, similar cellular scaling rules have not been examined in any detail. Here, we examine the scaling of auditory structures in birds and show that the scaling rules that have been established in the mammalian auditory pathway do not necessarily apply to birds. In galliforms, neuronal densities decrease with increasing brain size, suggesting that auditory brainstem structures increase in size faster than neurons are added; smaller brains have relatively more neurons than larger brains. The cellular scaling rules that apply to auditory brainstem structures in galliforms are, therefore, different to that found in primate auditory pathway. It is likely that the factors driving this difference are associated with the anatomical specializations required for sound perception in birds, although there is a decoupling of neuron numbers in brain structures and hair cell numbers in the basilar papilla. This study provides significant insight into the allometric scaling of neural structures in birds and improves our understanding of the rules that govern neural scaling across vertebrates.

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We would like to thank all of the hunters and falconers that assisted us in obtaining specimens in Alberta and New Zealand, in particular, Brent Davidson, Lynn Oliphant and Udo Hannebaum. We thank also the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback on the manuscript. Funding for this study was provided by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant (372237) and Accelerator Supplement (380284-2009) to ANI and NSERC (446013) grants to DRW.

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The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interests.

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Correspondence to Jeremy R. Corfield.

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Corfield, J.R., Long, B., Krilow, J.M. et al. A unique cellular scaling rule in the avian auditory system. Brain Struct Funct 221, 2675–2693 (2016).

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  • Nucleus magnocellularis
  • Nucleus laminaris
  • Nucleus angularis
  • Neural scaling
  • Comparative neuroanatomy
  • Allometry