Revival of calcium-binding proteins for neuromorphology: secretagogin typifies distinct cell populations in the avian brain

Brain Behav Evol. 2014;83(2):82-92. doi: 10.1159/000357834. Epub 2014 Apr 24.


In the vertebrate nervous system, the Ca(2+)-binding proteins parvalbumin, calbindin and calretinin have been extensively used to elaborate the molecular diversity of neuronal subtypes. Secretagogin is a phylogenetically conserved Ca(2+)-binding protein, which marks neuronal populations largely distinct from other Ca(2+)-binding proteins in mammals. Whether secretagogin is expressed in nonmammalian vertebrates, particularly in birds, and, if so, with a brain cytoarchitectonic design different from that of mammals is unknown. Here, we show that secretagogin is already present in the hatchlings' brain with continued presence into adulthood. Secretagogin-immunoreactive neurons primarily accumulate in the olfactory bulb, septum, subpallial amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, habenular nuclei and deep layers of the optic tectum of adult domestic chicks (Gallus domesticus). In the olfactory bulb, secretagogin labels periglomerular neurons as well as a cell continuum ascending dorsomedially, reaching the ventricular wall. Between the hippocampus and septal nuclei, the interconnecting thin septal tissue harbors secretagogin-immunoreactive neurons that contact the ventricular wall with their ramifying dendritic processes. Secretagogin is also present in the neuroendocrine hypothalamus, with particularly rich neuronal clusters seen in its suprachiasmatic and infundibular nuclei. Secretagogin expression identified a hitherto undescribed cell contingent along intratelencephalic cell-free laminae separating brain regions or marking the palliosubpallial boundary, as well as a dense neuronal population in the area corticoidea lateralis. In both the telencephalon and midbrain, secretagogin complemented the distribution of the canonical 'neuronal' Ca(2+)-binding proteins. Our findings identify novel neuronal subtypes, connectivity patterns in brain areas functionally relevant to olfaction, orientation, behavior as well as endocrine functions, which will help refine existing concepts on the neuronal diversity and organizational principles of the avian brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Chickens / metabolism*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Secretagogins / metabolism*


  • Secretagogins