Institutions: McGill University, Department of Psychology
Research interests: Auditory communication; Neural development; Brain imaging
Evan Balaban’s laboratory uses transplants of embryonic brain tissue between two bird species at early stages of development to learn more about the brain mechanisms underlying species behavioral differences. The resulting animals, called chimeras, provide an opportunity to survey the brain for particular regions that, when transplanted between species, will transform the performance of a particular target behavior by the host individuals to the form shown by donor individuals. Using transplants in combination with neuroanatomical and electrophysiological techniques, and molecular and metabolic-based methods for imaging brain activity, his team identifies interacting cell groups in the developing nervous system that make decisive contributions to species differences in the architecture of neural circuits underlying communicative behaviors (particularly auditory communication behaviors), and specifies the role these regions play in neural and behavioral development. In addition, he develops methods for studying changes in ongoing brain activity during the perception of naturalistic time-varying sound sequences such as speech or music, with a particular interest in applying these methods to study the neural mechanisms of pitch perception (prosodic perception in speech), auditory category formation (phonetic categories in speech), and how these mechanisms emerge ontogenetically.