Female Stimuli Trigger Gene Expression in Male Pigeons

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The immediate early gene zenk encodes transcriptional regulators and is believed to be one of the first steps in the formation of long-term memories associated with a given stimulus. In this study, we investigated the expression of ZENK protein product in brain regions that are likely involved in the processing of social stimuli, such as a potential mate. Male pigeons (Columba livia) were exposed to one of the following: (1) a live female pigeon, (2) a video playback of a female pigeon, (3) a video playback of a female cockatoo, or (4) an empty stimulus chamber. The brains were then processed immunohistochemically using an antibody against ZENK protein. When the stimulus was a live pigeon compared to all other stimuli, there were more numerous and more darkly-stained ZENK-positive cells in three “association” regions of the telencephalon: the hyperpallium apicale, the lateral portion of the intermediate nidopallium, and the medial nidopallium. There were no significant differences among the video-playback stimuli. The results suggest that the level of ZENK expression in these “association” regions was influenced not only by the visual presence of a potential mate, but by the presence of non-visual signals, the quality of the image, and the real-time interaction with the stimulus.

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Social Neuroscience, v. 4, issue 1, p. 28-39