First images of dolphin brain circuitry hint at how they sense sound

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | July 8, 2015

Neuroscientists have for the first time mapped the sensory and motor systems in the brains of dolphins. Proceedings of the Royal Society B is publishing the results, showing that at least two areas of the dolphin brain are associated with the auditory system, unlike most mammals that primarily process sound in a single area.

“Dolphins are incredibly intelligent, social animals and yet very little is known about how their brains function, so they have remained relatively mysterious,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and lead author of the study. “We now have the first picture of the entire dolphin brain and all of the white matter connections inside of it.”

The researchers applied a novel technique of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) on the preserved brains of two dolphins who died after stranding on a beach in North Carolina more than a decade ago. The method for using DTI on a non-living brain was developed relatively recently and had previously only been used for research on deceased humans, primates and rats.

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