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Bio

Brigid Maloney, PhD

2024 Leon Levy Scholar in Neuroscience

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Sub-disciplinary Category

Cognitive & Behavioral Neuroscience

Previous Positions

  • BA, Hunter College
  • PhD, The Rockefeller University

Bio

Dr. Brigid Maloney obtained a B.A. in Behavioral Neuroscience from the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY Hunter College in 2013. As an undergrad, she studied the social interactions and behavioral responses of wild bottlenose dolphins to unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) observation systems, developing guidelines for their proper use in marine mammal behavioral ecology. She is a graduate fellow in the Jarvis and Magnasco laboratories at the Rockefeller University. Her primary research interest is the development of complex social behaviors, such as language, across diverse species. Currently, she is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Dr. Patrick Hof.

Research Summary

Identifying the transcriptomic (RNA transcript) specializations unique to advanced vocal learning mammals.

Technical Overview

Vocal learning is a rare trait in the animal kingdom in which animals are able to acquire and modify new acoustic and syntactic sounds and produce vocalizations. In human and avian learners, studies have identified a forebrain motor circuit necessary to acquire novel vocalizations and produce learned sounds. Functionally analogous regions in this circuit share a unique gene expression profile across species. Cetaceans, like whales and dolphins, are the most proficient vocal learners apart from humans, with behavior well documented in both wild and captive studies, but the underlying circuits are unknown. To understand the evolution of this trait in cetaceans, Dr. Brigid Maloney aims to characterize the transcriptomic (RNA transcripts) identity of the cetacean motor cortex. She will then compare this to data collected from avian and human regions to determine if their molecular profile is unique to advanced mammals. She will also test for selection across the genomes of vocal learning species to determine if selection has acted upon the genes specialized in the vocal-motor circuit. These experiments will be a first step in characterizing the neurogenetic substrates underlying the evolution of spoken language.