Photo of Claudio V. Mello, M.D., Ph.D.

Claudio V. Mello M.D., Ph.D.

Claudio Mello earned an M.D. in Brasilia, Brazil, and a Ph.D. in molecular neurobiology at Rockefeller University, New York City. 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 three 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; 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.

In 2018, a parrot genome study led by Dr. Mello reveals genes associated with cognition and longevity. The discovery was covered in The New York Times, New Scientist, The Portland Business Journal and an outlet in Brazil.

Also in 2018, Dr. Mello’s research revealed a species of hummingbird with a call well above the known hearing range of any bird species ever recorded. By understanding the mechanism of hearing in such a high range, it may be possible to apply this knowledge to people. The discovery was featured in The New York Times, Nature, National Geographic and Popular Science.

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Areas of interest

  • Neuroethology
  • Molecular neuroscience
  • Speech and Language
  • Vocal learning
  • Central auditory processing
  • Learning and memory
  • Neurogenomics


  • M.D., University of Brasilia, Brasilia, DF Brazil 1988
  • Ph.D., The Rockefeller University, New York New York United States 1993


  • "Species differences in auditory processing dynamics in songbird auditory telencephalon" Developmental Neurobiology September 11 2007
  • "Descending auditory pathways in the adult male zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)" Journal of Comparative Neurology June 1 1998
  • "Song-induced gene expression" Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences  2004
  • "Convergent transcriptional specializations in the brains of humans and song-learning birds" Science December 12 2014
  • "Drinking songs" PLoS One December 23 2014
  • "Gene expression and synaptic plasticity in the auditory forebrain of songbirds" Learning and Memory  2000
  • "Molecular targets of disulfiram action on song maturation in zebra finches" Brain Research March 5 2001
  • "Response to Hron et al." Genome Biology August 18 2015
  • "Revised Nomenclature for Avian Telencephalon and Some Related Brainstem Nuclei" Journal of Comparative Neurology May 31 2004
  • "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 September 2012
  • "Auditory topography and temporal response dynamics of canary caudal telencephalon" Developmental Neurobiology February 15 2006
  • "The Zebra finch, taeniopygia guttata" Cold Spring Harbor Protocols December 1 2014
  • "Calbindin-positive neurons reveal a sexual dimorphism within the songbird analogue of the mammalian auditory cortex" Developmental Neurobiology February 5 2006
  • "Birdsong "transcriptomics"" PLoS One October 20 2008
  • "Cloning and expression analysis of retinoic acid receptors in the zebra finch brain" Journal of Comparative Neurology August 15 2005
  • "Storage of auditory temporal patterns in the songbird telencephalon" Neurocomputing June 2007
  • "The opportunities and challenges of large-scale molecular approaches to songbird neurobiology" Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews March 1 2015
  • "Whole-genome analyses resolve early branches in the tree of life of modern birds" Science December 12 2014
  • "Brain gene regulation by territorial singing behavior in freely ranging songbirds" NeuroReport  1997
  • "Vitamin a and brain function"   2012
  • "Gene regulation by song in the auditory telencephalon of songbirds" Frontiers in Bioscience - Landmark  2004
  • "An automated system for the mapping and quantitative analysis of immunocytochemistry of an inducible nuclear protein" Journal of Neuroscience Methods March 1 1999
  • "Chapter IV Immediate-early gene (IEG) expression mapping of vocal communication areas in the avian brain"   2002
  • "Comparative genomics reveals insights into avian genome evolution and adaptation" Science December 12 2014
  • "Vocalizations and associated behaviors of the sombre hummingbird (Aphantochroa cirrhochloris) and the rufous-breasted hermit (Glaucis hirsutus)" Auk October 2006
  • "Noradrenergic control of gene expression and long-term neuronal adaptation evoked by learned vocalizations in songbirds" PLoS One May 4 2012
  • "Isolation of song-regulated genes in the brain of songbirds." Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.)  1997
  • "An optimized protocol for high-throughput in situ hybridization of zebra finch brain" Cold Spring Harbor Protocols December 1 2014
  • "Decrements in auditory responses to a repeated conspecific song are long-lasting and require two periods of protein synthesis in the songbird forebrain" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America April 11 1995
  • "Proper care, husbandry, and breeding guidelines for the zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata" Cold Spring Harbor Protocols December 1 2014

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