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High throughput analysis reveals dissociable gene expression profiles in two independent neural systems involved in the regulation of social behavior

Tyler J Stevenson16*, Kirstin Replogle23, Jenny Drnevich4, David F Clayton235 and Gregory F Ball1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

2 Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, USA

3 Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, USA

4 High Performance Biological Computing Program and the Carver Biotechnology Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, USA

5 Neuroscience Program, University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, USA

6 Institute for Mind and Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Il, 60637, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:126  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-126

Published: 19 October 2012



Production of contextually appropriate social behaviors involves integrated activity across many brain regions. Many songbird species produce complex vocalizations called ‘songs’ that serve to attract potential mates, defend territories, and/or maintain flock cohesion. There are a series of discrete interconnect brain regions that are essential for the successful production of song. The probability and intensity of singing behavior is influenced by the reproductive state. The objectives of this study were to examine the broad changes in gene expression in brain regions that control song production with a brain region that governs the reproductive state.


We show using microarray cDNA analysis that two discrete brain systems that are both involved in governing singing behavior show markedly different gene expression profiles. We found that cortical and basal ganglia-like brain regions that control the socio-motor production of song in birds exhibit a categorical switch in gene expression that was dependent on their reproductive state. This pattern is in stark contrast to the pattern of expression observed in a hypothalamic brain region that governs the neuroendocrine control of reproduction. Subsequent gene ontology analysis revealed marked variation in the functional categories of active genes dependent on reproductive state and anatomical localization. HVC, one cortical-like structure, displayed significant gene expression changes associated with microtubule and neurofilament cytoskeleton organization, MAP kinase activity, and steroid hormone receptor complex activity. The transitions observed in the preoptic area, a nucleus that governs the motivation to engage in singing, exhibited variation in functional categories that included thyroid hormone receptor activity, epigenetic and angiogenetic processes.


These findings highlight the importance of considering the temporal patterns of gene expression across several brain regions when engaging in social behaviors.

Songbird; Microarray; Plasticity; Reproduction; Starling; POA; HVC; Area X