Claudio Mello earned an M.D. in Brasilia, Brazil, and a Ph.D. in molecular neurobiology at Rockefeller University, NYC. His broad interests relate to understanding the molecular genetic and neuronal basis of learned behaviors. His research program is centered on investigating the biology of vocal learning, a behavioral trait that enables speech and language acquisition in humans. Vocal learning is quite rare among mammals, but is very prominent in 3 bird groups: songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds. To study vocal behavior and related brain pathways in these avian vocal learners, the Mello lab utilizes molecular techniques, comparative and functional genomics, neuroanatomical tract-tracing and behavioral approaches in representative species, most notably zebra finches. Research in the Mello lab has been funded through grants from the NIH (NIDCD, NIGMS, NINDS), NSF and MRF of Oregon.
Besides numerous studies on the molecular and anatomical organization of avian vocal control and vocal learning systems, the Mello lab has actively participated in several collaborative and resource building efforts. This includes the consortium that led to changes in the Avian Brain Nomenclature, the SoNG consortium that developed genomics resources for zebra finches (brain cDNA, BAC libraries and microarrays), the collaborative effort to sequence and annotate the zebra finch genome, and the Avian Phylogenomics Consortium that redefined avian phylogeny based on genomic data. Among other contributions, these collaborations have helped define avian gene losses and lineage-specific gains, as well as led to the discovery of convergent molecular specializations of vocal areas in songbirds and humans. The lab is also involved in collaborative efforts to develop gene manipulation tools in zebra fiches, funded through an EDGE grant from NSF (with E. Jarvis at Rockefeller Univ., and C. Lois and T. Velho at Caltech), and to elucidate neural and molecular mechanisms associated with vocal learning in bats (with C. Portfors at WSU, and M. Yartsev at Berkeley).
A major effort in the Mello lab has been to characterize the expression profiles of brain-expressed genes in zebra finches. Accordingly, we have developed the Zebra finch Expression Brain Atlas (ZEBrA; www.zebrafinchatlas.org) an online and expanding database of high resolution digital in situ hybridization images of brain expressed genes (>700), with reference to a histological atlas. ZEBrA contains numerous molecular markers of vocal nuclei, representing candidate regulators of unique features of vocal learning behavior and related brain pathways. ZEBrA also contains numerous markers of broad brain areas, thus contributing to studies of comparative vertebrate neuroanatomy and brain evolution. Through specific portals and an attributes tool, ZEBrA provides information on how genes are associated with speech and language function, human genetic disorders (OMIM-based), mouse neurological and behavioral phenotypes (MGI-based), and brain expression patterns in mammals (based on Allen Institute’s mouse brain atlas). ZEBrA has been funded through resource building R24 grants from the NIH/NIGMS, as well as a pilot R03 grant from the NIH/NINDS, as well as benefitted from other grants to the Mello lab from the NIH/NIDCD and from NSF.Read more
Areas of interest
- Molecular neuroscience
- Speech and Language
- Vocal learning
- Central auditory processing
- Learning and memory
- M.D., University of Brasilia, Brasilia, DF Brazil 1988
- Ph.D., The Rockefeller University, New York New York United States 1993
- "The constitutive differential transcriptome of a brain circuit for vocal learning." BMC Genomics In: , Vol. 19, No. 1, 231, 03.04.2018.
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- "Black Jacobin hummingbirds vocalize above the known hearing range of birds." Current Biology In: , Vol. 28, No. 5, 05.03.2018, p. R193-R194.
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- "Control of phasic firing by a background leak current in avian forebrain auditory neurons." Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience In: , Vol. 9, No. DEC, 471, 10.12.2015, p. 1-17.
- "Dynamic gene expression in the song system of zebra finches during the song learning period." Developmental Neurobiology In: , Vol. 75, No. 12, 01.12.2015, p. 1315-1338.
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- "Genomics analysis of potassium channel genes in songbirds reveals molecular specializations of brain circuits for the maintenance and production of learned vocalizations." BMC Genomics In: , Vol. 14, No. 1, 470, 11.07.2013.
- "Digital atlas of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) brain : A high-resolution photo atlas." Journal of Comparative Neurology In: , Vol. 521, No. 16, 2013, p. 3702-3715.
- "Impact of experience-dependent and -independent factors on gene expression in songbird brain." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America In: , Vol. 109, No. SUPPL.2, 16.10.2012, p. 17245-17252.
- "Increased bursting glutamatergic neurotransmission in an auditory forebrain area of the zebra finch (Taenopygia guttata) induced by auditory stimulation." Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology In: , Vol. 198, No. 9, 09.2012, p. 705-716.
- "Noradrenergic control of gene expression and long-term neuronal adaptation evoked by learned vocalizations in songbirds." PLoS One In: , Vol. 7, No. 5, e36276, 04.05.2012.
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