The constitutive differential transcriptome of a brain circuit for vocal learning.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND:The ability to imitate the vocalizations of other organisms, a trait known as vocal learning, is shared by only a few organisms, including humans, where it subserves the acquisition of speech and language, and 3 groups of birds. In songbirds, vocal learning requires the coordinated activity of a set of specialized brain nuclei referred to as the song control system. Recent efforts have revealed some of the genes that are expressed in these vocal nuclei, however a thorough characterization of the transcriptional specializations of this system is still missing. We conducted a rigorous and comprehensive analysis of microarrays, and conducted a separate analysis of 380 genes by in situ hybridizations in order to identify molecular specializations of the major nuclei of the song system of zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), a songbird species. RESULTS:Our efforts identified more than 3300 genes that are differentially regulated in one or more vocal nuclei of adult male birds compared to the adjacent brain regions. Bioinformatics analyses provided insights into the possible involvement of these genes in molecular pathways such as cellular morphogenesis, intrinsic cellular excitability, neurotransmission and neuromodulation, axonal guidance and cela-to-cell interactions, and cell survival, which are known to strongly influence the functional properties of the song system. Moreover, an in-depth analysis of specific gene families with known involvement in regulating the development and physiological properties of neuronal circuits provides further insights into possible modulators of the song system. CONCLUSION:Our study represents one of the most comprehensive molecular characterizations of a brain circuit that evolved to facilitate a learned behavior in a vertebrate. The data provide novel insights into possible molecular determinants of the functional properties of the song control circuitry. It also provides lists of compelling targets for pharmacological and genetic manipulations to elucidate the molecular regulation of song behavior and vocal learning.
Project description:Song-learning birds and humans share independently evolved similarities in brain pathways for vocal learning that are essential for song and speech and are not found in most other species. Comparisons of brain transcriptomes of song-learning birds and humans relative to vocal nonlearners identified convergent gene expression specializations in specific song and speech brain regions of avian vocal learners and humans. The strongest shared profiles relate bird motor and striatal song-learning nuclei, respectively, with human laryngeal motor cortex and parts of the striatum that control speech production and learning. Most of the associated genes function in motor control and brain connectivity. Thus, convergent behavior and neural connectivity for a complex trait are associated with convergent specialized expression of multiple genes.
Project description:A fundamental question in molecular neurobiology is how genes that determine basic neuronal properties shape the functional organization of brain circuits underlying complex learned behaviors. Given the growing availability of complete vertebrate genomes, comparative genomics represents a promising approach to address this question. Here we used genomics and molecular approaches to study how ion channel genes influence the properties of the brain circuitry that regulates birdsong, a learned vocal behavior with important similarities to human speech acquisition. We focused on potassium (K-)Channels, which are major determinants of neuronal cell excitability.We identified 107 K-Channel finch genes, including 6 novel genes common to non-mammalian vertebrate lineages. Twenty human genes are absent in songbirds, birds, or sauropsids, or unique to mammals, suggesting K-Channel properties may be lineage-specific. We also identified specific family members with insertions/deletions and/or high dN/dS ratios compared to chicken, a non-vocal learner. In situ hybridization revealed that while most K-Channel genes are broadly expressed in the brain, a subset is selectively expressed in song nuclei, representing molecular specializations of the vocal circuitry.Together, these findings shed new light on genes that may regulate biophysical and excitable properties of the song circuitry, identify potential targets for the manipulation of the song system, and reveal genomic specializations that may relate to the emergence of vocal learning and associated brain areas in birds.
Project description:Like human speech, birdsong is a complex vocal behavior that is acquired by sensorimotor learning based on coordination of auditory input and vocal output to mimic memorized tutor song. Here we investigate neural circuits for vocal learning and production in deafened songbirds to elucidate how sensory-input regulate genetic and epigenetic property of vocal development and its associated gene expression dynamics. Compared with audition-intact birds, in deafened zebra finches, the vocal development is delayed but song crystallization is observed at more than three times later, producing individually different but structured vocal patterns. In contrast to the distinct difference of vocal ontogeny between audition (+) and (-), unexpectedly, developmental regulation of gene expression dynamics is strictly conserved with age-locked trend in vocal motor circuit in both intact and deafened birds, indicating sensory-input independent robustness of developmental gene expression dynamics in the motor circuit for sensorimotor learning. This discrepancy between outward vocal phenotype and inward gene expression dynamics provides new insight into neural regulation at closing of the critical period for vocal learning by two different forms: auditory inputs-dependent ‘active’ crystallization and gene expression dynamics-mediated ‘passive’ crystallization. We collected brain samples from intact and early-deafened birds (deafened at day-post hatch 17-23) under silent and dark condition. Song nuclei in vocal motor circuit, HVC and RA tissue samples (juvenile; n = 3, young; n = 3, old; n = 3 of intact and early-deafened birds for HVC and RA) were laser-microdissected from total 24 birds (intact; n = 12, early-deafened; n = 12). Each sample was hybridized to a single array, totaling 36 arrays. Birds were selected per slide such that early-deafened birds were paired with intact birds. To minimize possible interslide bias or batch effects, intact and early-deafened bird samples matching with brain area and age conditions were hybridized side by side on same array glass.
Project description:Background: Vocal learning is a rare and complex behavioral trait that serves as a basis for the acquisition of human spoken language. In songbirds, vocal learning and production depend on a set of specialized brain nuclei known as the song system. Methodology/Principal Findings: Using high-throughput functional genomics we have identified, 200 novel molecular markers of adult zebra finch HVC Vocal, a key node of the song system. These markers clearly differentiate HVC from the general pallial region to which HVC belongs, and thus represent molecular specializations of this song nucleus. Bioinformatics analysis reveals that several major neuronal cell functions and specific biochemical pathways are the targets of transcriptional regulation in HVC, including: 1) cell-cell and cell-substrate interactions (e.g., cadherin/catenin-mediated adherens junctions, collagen-mediated focal adhesions, and semaphorin-neuropilin/plexin axon guidance pathways); 2) cell excitability (e.g., potassium channel subfamilies, cholinergic and serotonergic receptors, neuropeptides and neuropeptide receptors); 3) signal transduction (e.g., calcium regulatory proteins, regulators of G-protein-related signaling); 4) cell proliferation/death, migration and differentiation (e.g., TGF-beta/BMP and p53 pathways); and 5) regulation of gene expression (candidate retinoid and steroid targets, modulators of chromatin/nucleolar organization). The overall direction of regulation suggest that processes related to cell stability are enhanced, whereas proliferation, growth and plasticity are largely suppressed in adult HVC, consistent with the observation that song in this songbird species is mostly stable in adulthood. Conclusions/Significance: Our study represents one of the most comprehensive molecular genetic characterizations of a brain nucleus involved in a complex learned behavior in a vertebrate. The data indicate numerous targets for pharmacological and genetic manipulations of the song system, and provide novel insights into mechanisms that might play a role in the regulation of song behavior and/or vocal learning. Comparison of HVC and shelf regions from adult male zebra finches, 6 biological replicates per group. Each sample was hybridized against the SoNG universal reference RNA pool.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Specialized neural pathways, the song system, are required for acquiring, producing, and perceiving learned avian vocalizations. Birds that do not learn to produce their vocalizations lack telencephalic song system components. It is not known whether the song system forebrain regions are exclusively evolved for song or whether they also process information not related to song that might reflect their 'evolutionary history'.<h4>Methodology/principal findings</h4>To address this question we monitored the induction of two immediate-early genes (IEGs) c-Fos and ZENK in various regions of the song system in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) in response to an aversive food learning paradigm; this involves the association of a food item with a noxious stimulus that affects the oropharyngeal-esophageal cavity and tongue, causing subsequent avoidance of that food item. The motor response results in beak and head movements but not vocalizations. IEGs have been extensively used to map neuro-molecular correlates of song motor production and auditory processing. As previously reported, neurons in two pallial vocal motor regions, HVC and RA, expressed IEGs after singing. Surprisingly, c-Fos was induced equivalently also after food aversion learning in the absence of singing. The density of c-Fos positive neurons was significantly higher than that of birds in control conditions. This was not the case in two other pallial song nuclei important for vocal plasticity, LMAN and Area X, although singing did induce IEGs in these structures, as reported previously.<h4>Conclusions/significance</h4>Our results are consistent with the possibility that some of the song nuclei may participate in non-vocal learning and the populations of neurons involved in the two tasks show partial overlap. These findings underscore the previously advanced notion that the specialized forebrain pre-motor nuclei controlling song evolved from circuits involved in behaviors related to feeding.
Project description:Vocal learning is a rare and complex behavioral trait that serves as a basis for the acquisition of human spoken language. In songbirds, vocal learning and production depend on a set of specialized brain nuclei known as the song system.Using high-throughput functional genomics we have identified approximately 200 novel molecular markers of adult zebra finch HVC, a key node of the song system. These markers clearly differentiate HVC from the general pallial region to which HVC belongs, and thus represent molecular specializations of this song nucleus. Bioinformatics analysis reveals that several major neuronal cell functions and specific biochemical pathways are the targets of transcriptional regulation in HVC, including: 1) cell-cell and cell-substrate interactions (e.g., cadherin/catenin-mediated adherens junctions, collagen-mediated focal adhesions, and semaphorin-neuropilin/plexin axon guidance pathways); 2) cell excitability (e.g., potassium channel subfamilies, cholinergic and serotonergic receptors, neuropeptides and neuropeptide receptors); 3) signal transduction (e.g., calcium regulatory proteins, regulators of G-protein-related signaling); 4) cell proliferation/death, migration and differentiation (e.g., TGF-beta/BMP and p53 pathways); and 5) regulation of gene expression (candidate retinoid and steroid targets, modulators of chromatin/nucleolar organization). The overall direction of regulation suggest that processes related to cell stability are enhanced, whereas proliferation, growth and plasticity are largely suppressed in adult HVC, consistent with the observation that song in this songbird species is mostly stable in adulthood.Our study represents one of the most comprehensive molecular genetic characterizations of a brain nucleus involved in a complex learned behavior in a vertebrate. The data indicate numerous targets for pharmacological and genetic manipulations of the song system, and provide novel insights into mechanisms that might play a role in the regulation of song behavior and/or vocal learning.
Project description:In vocal learning birds, memorization and song production rely on a set of telencephalic nuclei referred to as the song control system. Seasonal changes in song production are correlated with changes in the volume of the song control nuclei and are influenced by photoperiodic conditions and hormonal cues. The seasonal volume changes in the avian brain that controls singing are thought to involve regulation of neuronal replacement, which is a striking example of neuronal plasticity. The Rufous-bellied Thrush (Turdus rufiventris) is a seasonally breeding bird that actively sings during the spring and summer (breeding season) and is relatively silent in the fall, yet possible mechanisms behind the periodic changes in song production remain unknown. Here, we have examined two song control nuclei: High vocal center (HVC) and robust nucleus of arcopallium (RA) in fall males, spring males, and fall females of Rufous-bellied Thrush. The cytoarchitectonic organization was analyzed and quantified from Nissl-stained sections, and gene expression of song nuclei markers was examined by in situ hybridization during breeding and nonbreeding seasons. We observed a reduction in HVC volume and reductions in parvalbumin, and RGS4 expression in HVC and RA in males during the nonbreeding season. These findings provide evidence of seasonal changes in the song system of a representative tropical-breeding Turdidae species that does not maintain territories or mate bonding, setting the histological and molecular groundwork for future studies aimed at better understanding of song nuclei changes in seasonally breeding songbirds.
Project description:Mechanisms for the evolution of convergent behavioral traits are largely unknown. Vocal learning is one such trait that evolved multiple times and is necessary in humans for the acquisition of spoken language. Among birds, vocal learning is evolved in songbirds, parrots, and hummingbirds. Each time similar forebrain song nuclei specialized for vocal learning and production have evolved. This finding led to the hypothesis that the behavioral and neuroanatomical convergences for vocal learning could be associated with molecular convergence. We previously found that the neural activity-induced gene dual specificity phosphatase 1 (dusp1) was up-regulated in non-vocal circuits, specifically in sensory-input neurons of the thalamus and telencephalon; however, dusp1 was not up-regulated in higher order sensory neurons or motor circuits. Here we show that song motor nuclei are an exception to this pattern. The song nuclei of species from all known vocal learning avian lineages showed motor-driven up-regulation of dusp1 expression induced by singing. There was no detectable motor-driven dusp1 expression throughout the rest of the forebrain after non-vocal motor performance. This pattern contrasts with expression of the commonly studied activity-induced gene egr1, which shows motor-driven expression in song nuclei induced by singing, but also motor-driven expression in adjacent brain regions after non-vocal motor behaviors. In the vocal non-learning avian species, we found no detectable vocalizing-driven dusp1 expression in the forebrain. These findings suggest that independent evolutions of neural systems for vocal learning were accompanied by selection for specialized motor-driven expression of the dusp1 gene in those circuits. This specialized expression of dusp1 could potentially lead to differential regulation of dusp1-modulated molecular cascades in vocal learning circuits.
Project description:<b>Background: </b>Vocal learning, the ability to learn to produce vocalizations through imitation, relies on specialized brain circuitry known in songbirds as the song system. While the connectivity and various physiological properties of this system have been characterized, the molecular genetic basis of neuronal excitability in song nuclei remains understudied. We have focused our efforts on examining voltage-gated ion channels to gain insight into electrophysiological and functional features of vocal nuclei. A previous investigation of potassium channel genes in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) revealed evolutionary modifications unique to songbirds, as well as transcriptional specializations in the song system [Lovell PV, Carleton JB, Mello CV. BMC Genomics 14:470 2013]. Here, we expand this approach to sodium, calcium, and chloride channels along with their modulatory subunits using comparative genomics and gene expression analysis encompassing microarrays and in situ hybridization.<br><br><b>Results: </b>We found 23 sodium, 38 calcium, and 33 chloride channel genes (HGNC-based classification) in the zebra finch genome, several of which were previously unannotated. We determined 15 genes are missing relative to mammals, including several genes (CLCAs, BEST2) linked to olfactory transduction. The majority of sodium and calcium but few chloride channels showed differential expression in the song system, among them SCN8A and CACNA1E in the direct motor pathway, and CACNG4 and RYR2 in the anterior forebrain pathway. In several cases, we noted a seemingly coordinated pattern across multiple nuclei (SCN1B, SCN3B, SCN4B, CACNB4) or sparse expression (SCN1A, CACNG5, CACNA1B).<br><br><b>Conclusion: </b>The gene families examined are highly conserved between avian and mammalian lineages. Several cases of differential expression likely support high-frequency and burst firing in specific song nuclei, whereas cases of sparse patterns of expression may contribute to the unique electrophysiological signatures of distinct cell populations. These observations lay the groundwork for manipulations to determine how ion channels contribute to the neuronal excitability properties of vocal learning systems.
Project description:Humans and song-learning birds communicate acoustically using learned vocalizations. The characteristic features of this social communication behavior include vocal control by forebrain motor areas, a direct cortical projection to brainstem vocal motor neurons, and dependence on auditory feedback to develop and maintain learned vocalizations. These features have so far not been found in closely related primate and avian species that do not learn vocalizations. Male mice produce courtship ultrasonic vocalizations with acoustic features similar to songs of song-learning birds. However, it is assumed that mice lack a forebrain system for vocal modification and that their ultrasonic vocalizations are innate. Here we investigated the mouse song system and discovered that it includes a motor cortex region active during singing, that projects directly to brainstem vocal motor neurons and is necessary for keeping song more stereotyped and on pitch. We also discovered that male mice depend on auditory feedback to maintain some ultrasonic song features, and that sub-strains with differences in their songs can match each other's pitch when cross-housed under competitive social conditions. We conclude that male mice have some limited vocal modification abilities with at least some neuroanatomical features thought to be unique to humans and song-learning birds. To explain our findings, we propose a continuum hypothesis of vocal learning.