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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2002 Dec;188(11-12):943-59. Epub 2002 Nov 5.

Mapping vocal communication pathways in birds with inducible gene expression.

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  • 1Neurological Sciences Institute (NSI), Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), West Campus - Building 1, 505 NW 185th Ave., Beaverton, OR, USA.


Expression mapping of activity-dependent genes has been very useful to reveal brain activation patterns associated with specific stimuli or behavioral contexts. In addition, activity-induced neuronal gene expression is likely associated with neuronal plasticity and may be part of the mechanism(s) involved in long-term memory formation. Analysis of the immediate-early gene zenk has been used to generate high-resolution maps of brain activation associated with perceptual and motor aspects of vocal communication in songbirds and other avian groups. This molecular approach has generated novel insights into the organization of perceptual and motor control pathways for vocal communication in birds. Its impact on the neurobiology of birdsong will be reviewed here. Emphasis will be given to the caudomedial neostriatum, the area that shows the most robust zenk induction upon presentation of song to songbirds. Another focal point will be the comparative analysis of vocally induced zenk expression patterns across the avian orders that evolved vocal learning (i.e., songbirds, parrots, and hummingbirds). New research directions indicated by this molecular analysis will be discussed throughout.

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