Contact call-driven Zenk protein induction and habituation in telencephalic auditory pathways in the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus): Implications for understanding vocal learning processes

Steven Brauth, Wenru Liang, Todd F. Roberts, Lindsey L. Scott, Elizabeth M. Quinlan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Scopus citations


Expression of the immediate early gene protein Zenk (zif 268, egr-1, NGF1A, Krox24) was induced in forebrain auditory nuclei in a vocal learning parrot species, the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), when the subjects either listened to playbacks of an unfamiliar contact call or to a contact call with which they had been familiarized previously. Auditory nuclei included the Field L complex (L1, L2a, and L3), the neostriatum intermedium pars ventrolateralis (NIVL), the neostriatum adjacent to caudal nucleus basalis (peri-basalis or pBas), an area in the frontal lateral neostriatum (NFl), the supracentral nucleus of the lateral neostriatum (NLs), and the ventromedial hyperstriatum ventrale (HVvm). The latter three nuclei are main sources of auditory input to the vocal system. Two patterns of nuclear staining were induced by contact call stimulation-staining throughout cell nuclei, which was exhibited by at least some neurons in all areas examined except L2a and perinucleolar staining, which was the only kind of staining exhibited in field L2a. The different patterns of Zenk staining indicate that auditory stimulation may regulate the Zenk-dependent transcription of different subsets of genes in different auditory nuclei. The numbers of neurons expressing Zenk staining increased from seven- to 43-fold over control levels when the birds listened to a repeating unfamiliar call. Familiarization of the subjects with the call stimulus, through repeated playbacks, greatly reduced the induction of Zenk expression to the call when it was presented again after an intervening 24-h interval. To determine if neurons exhibiting contact call-driven Zenk expression project to the vocal control system, call stimulation was coupled with dextran amines pathway tracing. The results indicated that tracer injections in the vocal nucleus HVo (oval nucleus of the hyperstriatum ventrale), in fields lateral to HVo and in NLs labeled many Zenk-positive neurons in HVvm, NFl, and NLs. These results support the idea that, in these neurons, egr-1 couples auditory stimulation to the synthesis of proteins involved in either the storing of new perceptual engrams for vocal learning or the processing of novel and/or meaningful acoustic stimuli related to vocal learning or the context in which it occurs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-88
Number of pages13
JournalLearning and Memory
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 23 2002


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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