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Dev Neurobiol. 2009 Jun;69(7):437-50. doi: 10.1002/dneu.20719.

Developmental shifts in gene expression in the auditory forebrain during the sensitive period for song learning.

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Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Urbana, IL 61801, USA.


A male zebra finch begins to learn to sing by memorizing a tutor's song during a sensitive period in juvenile development. Tutor song memorization requires molecular signaling within the auditory forebrain. Using microarray and in situ hybridizations, we tested whether the auditory forebrain at an age just before tutoring expresses a different set of genes compared with later life after song learning has ceased. Microarray analysis revealed differences in expression of thousands of genes in the male auditory forebrain at posthatch day 20 (P20) compared with adulthood. Furthermore, song playbacks had essentially no impact on gene expression in P20 auditory forebrain, but altered expression of hundreds of genes in adults. Most genes that were song-responsive in adults were expressed at constitutively high levels at P20. Using in situ hybridization with a representative sample of 44 probes, we confirmed these effects and found that birds at P20 and P45 were similar in their gene expression patterns. Additionally, eight of the probes showed male-female differences in expression. We conclude that the developing auditory forebrain is in a very different molecular state from the adult, despite its relatively mature gross morphology and electrophysiological responsiveness to song stimuli. Developmental gene expression changes may contribute to fine-tuning of cellular and molecular properties necessary for song learning.

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