For whom the bird sings: context-dependent gene expression

Neuron. 1998 Oct;21(4):775-88. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(00)80594-2.


Male zebra finches display two song behaviors: directed and undirected singing. The two differ little in the vocalizations produced but greatly in how song is delivered. "Directed" song is usually accompanied by a courtship dance and is addressed almost exclusively to females. "Undirected" song is not accompanied by the dance and is produced when the male is in the presence of other males, alone, or outside a nest occupied by its mate. Here, we show that the anterior forebrain vocal pathway contains medial and lateral "cortical-basal ganglia" subdivisions that have differential ZENK gene activation depending on whether the bird sings female-directed or undirected song. Differences also occur in the vocal output nucleus, RA. Thus, although these two vocal behaviors are very similar, their brain activation patterns are dramatically different.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain Mapping
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation* / physiology
  • Hearing / physiology
  • Male
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Social Environment*
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Telencephalon / physiology
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcriptional Activation
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Transcription Factors