Immediate early gene response to hearing song correlates with receptive behavior and depends on dialect in a female songbird

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2003 Sep;189(9):667-74. doi: 10.1007/s00359-003-0441-z. Epub 2003 Jul 19.


Stimulus-induced expression of the immediate early gene ZENK (egr-1) in the songbird's auditory forebrain presumably depends on the behavioral significance of the stimulus. Few studies, however, have quantified both the ZENK and behavioral responses to a stimulus in the same individuals. We played conspecific male song of either hatch (local) or foreign dialect to female white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha) and quantified both the auditory ZENK response and their behavioral response, which is known to depend on dialect. Birds hearing hatch dialect showed greater ZENK induction in the caudomedial hyperstriatum ventrale and the dorsal portion of the caudomedial neostriatum than birds hearing foreign dialect, supporting previous work showing a relationship between ZENK and salience of the stimulus. In the dorsal portion of the caudomedial neostriatum, ZENK induction was correlated with the amount of non-vocal courtship behavior; however, in the caudomedial hyperstriatum ventrale, ZENK induction was more highly correlated with the females' own vocal behavior and thus may have been partly self-induced. Some females sang and showed a male-like pattern of ZENK induction in their song systems. This study provides the first evidence that the ZENK response in a sensory area to a social stimulus is proportional to the animal's preference for the stimulus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology
  • Copulation / physiology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • Drug Implants
  • Estradiol / administration & dosage
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Prosencephalon / physiology
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Drug Implants
  • Transcription Factors
  • Estradiol