Distinct neurogenomic states in basal ganglia subregions relate differently to singing behavior in songbirds

PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(11):e1002773. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002773. Epub 2012 Nov 8.


Both avian and mammalian basal ganglia are involved in voluntary motor control. In birds, such movements include hopping, perching and flying. Two organizational features that distinguish the songbird basal ganglia are that striatal and pallidal neurons are intermingled, and that neurons dedicated to vocal-motor function are clustered together in a dense cell group known as area X that sits within the surrounding striato-pallidum. This specification allowed us to perform molecular profiling of two striato-pallidal subregions, comparing transcriptional patterns in tissue dedicated to vocal-motor function (area X) to those in tissue that contains similar cell types but supports non-vocal behaviors: the striato-pallidum ventral to area X (VSP), our focus here. Since any behavior is likely underpinned by the coordinated actions of many molecules, we constructed gene co-expression networks from microarray data to study large-scale transcriptional patterns in both subregions. Our goal was to investigate any relationship between VSP network structure and singing and identify gene co-expression groups, or modules, found in the VSP but not area X. We observed mild, but surprising, relationships between VSP modules and song spectral features, and found a group of four VSP modules that were highly specific to the region. These modules were unrelated to singing, but were composed of genes involved in many of the same biological processes as those we previously observed in area X-specific singing-related modules. The VSP-specific modules were also enriched for processes disrupted in Parkinson's and Huntington's Diseases. Our results suggest that the activation/inhibition of a single pathway is not sufficient to functionally specify area X versus the VSP and support the notion that molecular processes are not in and of themselves specialized for behavior. Instead, unique interactions between molecular pathways create functional specificity in particular brain regions during distinct behavioral states.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / chemistry
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Computational Biology
  • Finches / genetics
  • Finches / physiology*
  • Gene Expression / genetics
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Regulatory Networks / genetics
  • Gene Regulatory Networks / physiology*
  • Globus Pallidus / physiology
  • Models, Biological*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Singing / physiology*
  • Transcription Factors


  • Transcription Factors