Vasotocin neurons and septal V1a-like receptors potently modulate songbird flocking and responses to novelty

Horm Behav. 2011 Jun;60(1):12-21. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.01.012. Epub 2011 Feb 3.


Previous comparisons of territorial and gregarious finches (family Estrildidae) suggest the hypothesis that arginine vasotocin (VT) neurons in the medial bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTm) and V(1a)-like receptors in the lateral septum (LS) promote flocking behavior. Consistent with this hypothesis, we now show that intraseptal infusions of a V(1a) antagonist in male zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) reduce gregariousness (preference for a group of 10 versus 2 conspecific males), but have no effect on the amount of time that subjects spend in close proximity to other birds ("contact time"). The antagonist also produces a profound increase in anxiety-like behavior, as exhibited by an increased latency to feed in a novelty-suppressed feeding test. Bilateral knockdown of VT production in the BSTm using LNA-modified antisense oligonucleotides likewise produces increases in anxiety-like behavior and a potent reduction in gregariousness, relative to subjects receiving scrambled oligonucleotides. The antisense oligonucleotides also produced a modest increase in contact time, irrespective of group size. Together, these combined experiments provide clear evidence that endogenous VT promotes preferences for larger flock sizes, and does so in a manner that is coupled to general anxiolysis. Given that homologous peptide circuitry of the BSTm-LS is found across all tetrapod vertebrate classes, these findings may be predictive for other highly gregarious species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / chemically induced
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Male
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / administration & dosage
  • Receptors, Vasopressin / physiology*
  • Septum of Brain / drug effects
  • Septum of Brain / physiology*
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Vasotocin / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Vasotocin / physiology*


  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense
  • Receptors, Vasopressin
  • vasotocin receptor
  • Vasotocin