Sexual behavior activates the expression of the immediate early genes c-fos and Zenk (egr-1) in catecholaminergic neurons of male Japanese quail

Neuroscience. 2005;131(1):13-30. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2004.09.068.


We analyzed the expression of the immediate early genes c-fos and Zenk (egr-1) in the brain of male quail that were gonadally intact (I) or castrated and treated (CX+T) or not (CX) with testosterone and had been exposed for 60 min either to a sexually mature female (F), or to an empty arena (EA) or were left in their home cage (HC). Alternate sections in the brains collected 90 min after the start of behavioral interactions were stained by immunocytochemistry for the proteins FOS or ZENK alone or in association with tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), a marker of catecholaminergic neurons. C-fos and Zenk expression was statistically increased in six brain areas of sexually active birds (I+F, CX+T+F) compared with controls (CX+F, CX+T+EA, CX+T+HC), i.e. the preoptic area, bed nucleus striae terminalis, arcopallium, nucleus intercollicularis, periaqueductal gray and the ventral tegmental area. Interestingly, c-fos and Zenk expression was high in the nucleus intercollicularis, a midbrain vocal control nucleus, of I+F and CX+T+F birds that displayed copulatory behavior but emitted few crows but not in the nucleus intercollicularis of CX+T+EA birds that crowed frequently. Increases in c-fos expression were observed in TH-immunoreactive cells in the periaqueductal gray and ventral tegmental area, but not in the substantia nigra, of I+F and CX+T+F birds indicating the activation of dopaminergic neurons during sexual behavior. Together, these data confirm the implication of the steroid-sensitive preoptic area and bed nucleus striae terminalis in the control of copulation and support the notion that dopamine is involved in its control.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catecholamines / physiology*
  • Coturnix / physiology*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • Early Growth Response Protein 1
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genes, fos*
  • Immediate-Early Proteins / genetics*
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*


  • Catecholamines
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Early Growth Response Protein 1
  • Immediate-Early Proteins
  • Transcription Factors