Selective expression of insulin-like growth factor II in the songbird brain.

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Neuronal replacement occurs in the forebrain of juvenile and adult songbirds. To address the molecular processes that govern this replacement, we cloned the zebra finch insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II) cDNA, a factor known to regulate neuronal development and survival in other systems, and examined its expression pattern by in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry in juvenile and adult songbird brains. The highest levels of IGF-II mRNA expression occurred in three nuclei of the song system: in the high vocal center (HVC), in the medial magnocellular nucleus of the neostriatum (mMAN), which projects to HVC, and to a lesser extent in the robust nucleus of the archistriatum (RA), which receives projections from HVC. IGF-II mRNA expression was developmentally regulated in zebra finches. In canary HVC, monthly changes in IGF-II mRNA expression covaried with previously reported monthly differences in neuron incorporation. Combining retrograde tracers with in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry, we determined that the HVC neurons that project to area X synthesize the IGF-II mRNA, whereas the adjacent RA-projecting neurons accumulate the IGF-II peptide. Our findings raise the possibility that within HVC IGF-II acts as a paracrine signal between nonreplaceable area X-projecting neurons and replaceable RA-projecting neurons, a mode of action that is compatible with the involvement of IGF-II with the replacement of neurons. Additional roles for IGF-II expression in songbird brain are likely, because expression also occurs in some brain areas outside the song system, among them the cerebellar Purkinje cells in which neurogenesis is not known to occur.







Erich David Jarvis

Adjunct Professor in the Deptartment of Neurobiology

Dr. Jarvis' laboratory studies the neurobiology of vocal communication. Emphasis is placed on the molecular pathways involved in the perception and production of learned vocalizations. They use an integrative approach that combines behavioral, anatomical, electrophysiological and molecular biological techniques. The main animal model used is songbirds, one of the few vertebrate groups that evolved the ability to learn vocalizations. The generality of the discoveries is tested in other vocal learning orders, such as parrots and hummingbirds, as well as non-vocal learners, such as pigeons and non-human primates. Some of the questions require performing behavior/molecular biology experiments in freely ranging animals, such as hummingbirds in tropical forest of Brazil. Recent results show that in songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds, perception and production of song are accompanied by anatomically distinct patterns of gene expression. All three groups were found to exhibit vocally-activated gene expression in exactly 7 forebrain nuclei that are very similar to each other. These structures for vocal learning and production are thought to have evolved independently within the past 70 million years, since they are absent from interrelated non-vocal learning orders. One structure, Area X of the basal ganglia's striatum in songbirds, shows large differential gene activation depending on the social context in which the bird sings. These differences may reflect a semantic content of song, perhaps similar to human language.

The overall goal of the research is to advance knowledge of the neural mechanisms for vocal learning and basic mechanisms of brain function. These goals are further achieved by combined collaborative efforts with the laboratories of Drs. Mooney and Nowicki at Duke University, who study respectively behavior and electrophysiological aspects of songbird vocal communication.

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