Assessing visual requirements for social context-dependent activation of the songbird song system.

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Social context has been shown to have a profound influence on brain activation in a wide range of vertebrate species. Best studied in songbirds, when males sing undirected song, the level of neural activity and expression of immediate early genes (IEGs) in several song nuclei is dramatically higher or lower than when they sing directed song to other birds, particularly females. This differential social context-dependent activation is independent of auditory input and is not simply dependent on the motor act of singing. These findings suggested that the critical sensory modality driving social context-dependent differences in the brain could be visual cues. Here, we tested this hypothesis by examining IEG activation in song nuclei in hemispheres to which visual input was normal or blocked. We found that covering one eye blocked visually induced IEG expression throughout both contralateral visual pathways of the brain, and reduced activation of the contralateral ventral tegmental area, a non-visual midbrain motivation-related area affected by social context. However, blocking visual input had no effect on the social context-dependent activation of the contralateral song nuclei during female-directed singing. Our findings suggest that individual sensory modalities are not direct driving forces for the social context differences in song nuclei during singing. Rather, these social context differences in brain activation appear to depend more on the general sense that another individual is present.





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Hara, Erina, Lubica Kubikova, Neal A Hessler and Erich D Jarvis (2009). Assessing visual requirements for social context-dependent activation of the songbird song system. Proc Biol Sci, 276(1655). pp. 279–289. 10.1098/rspb.2008.1138 Retrieved from

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