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1.  Bigger Brains or Bigger Nuclei? Regulating the Size of Auditory Structures in Birds 
Brain, Behavior and Evolution  2004;63(3):169-180.
Increases in the size of the neuronal structures that mediate specific behaviors are believed to be related to enhanced computational performance. It is not clear, however, what developmental and evolutionary mechanisms mediate these changes, nor whether an increase in the size of a given neuronal population is a general mechanism to achieve enhanced computational ability. We addressed the issue of size by analyzing the variation in the relative number of cells of auditory structures in auditory specialists and generalists. We show that bird species with different auditory specializations exhibit variation in the relative size of their hindbrain auditory nuclei. In the barn owl, an auditory specialist, the hind-brain auditory nuclei involved in the computation of sound location show hyperplasia. This hyperplasia was also found in songbirds, but not in non-auditory specialists. The hyperplasia of auditory nuclei was also not seen in birds with large body weight suggesting that the total number of cells is selected for in auditory specialists. In barn owls, differences observed in the relative size of the auditory nuclei might be attributed to modifications in neurogenesis and cell death. Thus, hyperplasia of circuits used for auditory computation accompanies auditory specialization in different orders of birds.
PMCID: PMC3269630  PMID: 14726625
Evolution; Auditory; Neuronal computation; Birds; Allometry
2.  Connections of the Auditory Brainstem in a Songbird, Taeniopygia guttata. III. Projections of the Superior Olive and Lateral Lemniscal Nuclei 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2010;518(11):10.1002/cne.22325.
Sequential to companion articles that report the projections of the cochlear nucleus angularis (NA) and the third-order nucleus laminaris (NL) to the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus (MLd) and to the superior olive (OS) and lateral lemniscal nuclei (LLV, LLI, and LLD) (Krützfeldt et al., J Comp Neurol, this issue), we here describe the projections of the latter group of nuclei using standard tract-tracing methods. OS projects on LLV and both have further ascending projections on LLI, LLD, and MLd. LLV also provides auditory input to the song system, via nucleus uvaeformis, and to the thalamo-telencephalic auditory system, via nucleus ovoidalis (Ov), thus bypassing MLd. The two divisions of LLD (LLDa and LLDp) project across the midline via the commissure of Probst each to innervate the homologous contralateral nucleus and MLd. Both, particularly LLDp, also project on Ov. Injections in LLD and LLV resulted in anterograde labeling of caudal nucleus basorostralis (Bas) in the frontal telencephalon, but retrograde tracing so far suggests that only LLI is a real source of this projection (Wild and Farabaugh [1996] J Comp Neurol 365:306–328). OS and LLV also have descending projections on the ipsilateral NA, NM, and NL, and LLV also projects on OS. The ascending inputs to MLd and more rostral nuclei may contribute importantly to mechanisms of auditory pattern (song) recognition. Consistent with previous studies, some of the descending projections may be inhibitory.
PMCID: PMC3865895  PMID: 20394063
dorsal; ventral, and intermediate nuclei of the lateral lemniscus; zebra finch; avian
3.  Connections of the Auditory Brainstem in a Songbird, Taeniopygia guttata. II. Projections of Nucleus Angularis and Nucleus Laminaris to the Superior Olive and Lateral Lemniscal Nuclei 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2010;518(11):10.1002/cne.22324.
Three nuclei of the lateral lemniscus are present in the zebra finch, ventral (LLV), intermediate (LLI), and dorsal (LLD). LLV is separate from the superior olive (OS): it lies closer to the spinal lemniscus and extends much further rostrally around the pontine periphery. LLI extends from a caudal position ventrolateral to the principal sensory trigeminal nucleus (LLIc) to a rostral position medial to the ventrolateral parabrachial nucleus (LLIr). LLD consists of posterior (LLDp) and anterior (LLDa) parts, which are largely coextensive rostrocaudally, although LLDa lies medial to LLDp. All nuclei are identifiable on the basis of cytochrome oxidase activity. The cochlear nucleus angularis (NA) and the third-order nucleus laminaris (NL) project on OS predominantly ipsilaterally, on LLV and LLI predominantly contralaterally, and on LLD contralaterally only. The NA projections are heavier than those of NL and differ from them primarily in their terminations within LLD: NA projects to LLDp, whereas NL projects to LLDa. In this the projections are similar to those in the barn owl (Takahashi and Konishi [1988] J Comp Neurol 274:212–238), in which time and intensity pathways remain separate as far as the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus (MLd). In contrast, in the zebra finch, although NA and NL projections remain separate within LLD, the projections of LLDa and LLDp become intermixed within MLd (Wild et al., J Comp Neurol, this issue), consistent with the intermixing of the direct NA and NL projections to MLd (Krützfeldt et al., J Comp Neurol, this issue). J. Comp. Neurol. 518:2135–2148, 2010.
PMCID: PMC3862037  PMID: 20394062
cochlear nuclei; dorsal; ventral, and intermediate nuclei of the lateral lemniscus; zebra finch; avian
4.  Connections of the Auditory Brainstem in a Songbird, Taeniopygia guttata. I. Projections of Nucleus Angularis and Nucleus Laminaris to the Auditory Torus 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2010;518(11):10.1002/cne.22334.
Auditory information is important for social and reproductive behaviors in birds generally, but is crucial for oscine species (songbirds), in particular because in these species auditory feedback ensures the learning and accurate maintenance of song. While there is considerable information on the auditory projections through the forebrain of songbirds, there is no information available for projections through the brainstem. At the latter levels the prevalent model of auditory processing in birds derives from an auditory specialist, the barn owl, which uses time and intensity parameters to compute the location of sounds in space, but whether the auditory brainstem of songbirds is similarly functionally organized is unknown. To examine the songbird auditory brainstem we charted the projections of the cochlear nuclei angularis (NA) and magnocellularis (NM) and the third-order nucleus laminaris (NL) in zebra finches using standard tract-tracing techniques. As in other avian species, the projections of NM were found to be confined to NL, and NL and NA provided the ascending projections. Here we report on differential projections of NA and NL to the torus semicircularis, known in birds as nucleus mesencephalicus lateralis, pars dorsalis (MLd), and in mammals as the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus (ICc). Unlike the case in nonsongbirds, the projections of NA and NL to MLd in the zebra finch showed substantial overlap, in agreement with the projections of the cochlear nuclei to the ICc in mammals. This organization could suggest that the “what” of auditory stimuli is as important as “where.”
PMCID: PMC3862038  PMID: 20394061
cochlear nuclei; central nucleus of inferior colliculus; MLd; zebra finch; avian
5.  Inner-Ear Morphology of the New Zealand Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli) Suggests High-Frequency Specialization 
The sensory systems of the New Zealand kiwi appear to be uniquely adapted to occupy a nocturnal ground-dwelling niche. In addition to well-developed tactile and olfactory systems, the auditory system shows specializations of the ear, which are maintained along the central nervous system. Here, we provide a detailed description of the auditory nerve, hair cells, and stereovillar bundle orientation of the hair cells in the North Island brown kiwi. The auditory nerve of the kiwi contained about 8,000 fibers. Using the number of hair cells and innervating nerve fibers to calculate a ratio of average innervation density showed that the afferent innervation ratio in kiwi was denser than in most other birds examined. The average diameters of cochlear afferent axons in kiwi showed the typical gradient across the tonotopic axis. The kiwi basilar papilla showed a clear differentiation of tall and short hair cells. The proportion of short hair cells was higher than in the emu and likely reflects a bias towards higher frequencies represented on the kiwi basilar papilla. The orientation of the stereovillar bundles in the kiwi basilar papilla showed a pattern similar to that in most other birds but was most similar to that of the emu. Overall, many features of the auditory nerve, hair cells, and stereovilli bundle orientation in the kiwi are typical of most birds examined. Some features of the kiwi auditory system do, however, support a high-frequency specialization, specifically the innervation density and generally small size of hair-cell somata, whereas others showed the presumed ancestral condition similar to that found in the emu.
PMCID: PMC3441955  PMID: 22772440
hair cell; basilar papilla; auditory nerve; Paleognathae
6.  Perineuronal satellite neuroglia in the telencephalon of New Caledonian crows and other Passeriformes: evidence of satellite glial cells in the central nervous system of healthy birds? 
PeerJ  2013;1:e110.
Glia have been implicated in a variety of functions in the central nervous system, including the control of the neuronal extracellular space, synaptic plasticity and transmission, development and adult neurogenesis. Perineuronal glia forming groups around neurons are associated with both normal and pathological nervous tissue. Recent studies have linked reduction in the number of perineuronal oligodendrocytes in the prefrontal cortex with human schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. Therefore, perineuronal glia may play a decisive role in homeostasis and normal activity of the human nervous system.
Here we report on the discovery of novel cell clusters in the telencephala of five healthy Passeriforme, one Psittaciform and one Charadriiforme bird species, which we refer to as Perineuronal Glial Clusters (PGCs). The aim of this study is to describe the structure and distribution of the PGCs in a number of avian species.
PGCs were identified with the use of standard histological procedures. Heterochromatin masses visible inside the nuclei of these satellite glia suggest that they may correspond to oligodendrocytes. PGCs were found in the brains of nine New Caledonian crows, two Japanese jungle crows, two Australian magpies, two Indian mynah, three zebra finches (all Passeriformes), one Southern lapwing (Charadriiformes) and one monk parakeet (Psittaciformes). Microscopic survey of the brain tissue suggests that the largest PGCs are located in the hyperpallium densocellulare and mesopallium. No clusters were found in brain sections from one Gruiform (purple swamphen), one Strigiform (barn owl), one Trochiliform (green-backed firecrown), one Falconiform (chimango caracara), one Columbiform (pigeon) and one Galliform (chick).
Our observations suggest that PGCs in Aves are brain region- and taxon-specific and that the presence of perineuronal glia in healthy human brains and the similar PGCs in avian gray matter is the result of convergent evolution. The discovery of PGCs in the zebra finch is of great importance because this species has the potential to become a robust animal model in which to study the function of neuron-glia interactions in healthy and diseased adult brains.
PMCID: PMC3728766  PMID: 23904989
Perineuronal satellitosis; Oligodendroglia; Glia
7.  Developmental Changes Underlying the Formation of the Specialized Time Coding Circuits in Barn Owls (Tyto alba) 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2002;22(17):7671-7679.
Barn owls are capable of great accuracy in detecting the interaural time differences (ITDs) that underlie azimuthal sound localization. They compute ITDs in a circuit in nucleus laminaris (NL) that is reorganized with respect to birds like the chicken. The events that lead to the reorganization of the barn owl NL take place during embryonic development, shortly after the cochlear and laminaris nuclei have differentiated morphologically. At first the developing owl’s auditory brainstem exhibits morphology reminiscent of that of the developing chicken. Later, the two systems diverge, and the owl’s brainstem auditory nuclei undergo a secondary morphogenetic phase during which NL dendrites retract, the laminar organization is lost, and synapses are redistributed. These events lead to the restructuring of the ITD coding circuit and the consequent reorganization of the hindbrain map of ITDs and azimuthal space.
PMCID: PMC3260528  PMID: 12196590
avian development; morphogenesis; auditory; laminaris; evolution; interaural time difference
8.  Evidence for an Auditory Fovea in the New Zealand Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli) 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23771.
Kiwi are rare and strictly protected birds of iconic status in New Zealand. Yet, perhaps due to their unusual, nocturnal lifestyle, surprisingly little is known about their behaviour or physiology. In the present study, we exploited known correlations between morphology and physiology in the avian inner ear and brainstem to predict the frequency range of best hearing in the North Island brown kiwi. The mechanosensitive hair bundles of the sensory hair cells in the basilar papilla showed the typical change from tall bundles with few stereovilli to short bundles with many stereovilli along the apical-to-basal tonotopic axis. In contrast to most birds, however, the change was considerably less in the basal half of the epithelium. Dendritic lengths in the brainstem nucleus laminaris also showed the typical change along the tonotopic axis. However, as in the basilar papilla, the change was much less pronounced in the presumed high-frequency regions. Together, these morphological data suggest a fovea-like overrepresentation of a narrow high-frequency band in kiwi. Based on known correlations of hair-cell microanatomy and physiological responses in other birds, a specific prediction for the frequency representation along the basilar papilla of the kiwi was derived. The predicted overrepresentation of approximately 4-6 kHz matches potentially salient frequency bands of kiwi vocalisations and may thus be an adaptation to a nocturnal lifestyle in which auditory communication plays a dominant role.
PMCID: PMC3161079  PMID: 21887317
9.  Subdivisions of the Auditory Midbrain (N. Mesencephalicus Lateralis, pars dorsalis) in Zebra Finches Using Calcium-Binding Protein Immunocytochemistry 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20686.
The midbrain nucleus mesencephalicus lateralis pars dorsalis (MLd) is thought to be the avian homologue of the central nucleus of the mammalian inferior colliculus. As such, it is a major relay in the ascending auditory pathway of all birds and in songbirds mediates the auditory feedback necessary for the learning and maintenance of song. To clarify the organization of MLd, we applied three calcium binding protein antibodies to tissue sections from the brains of adult male and female zebra finches. The staining patterns resulting from the application of parvalbumin, calbindin and calretinin antibodies differed from each other and in different parts of the nucleus. Parvalbumin-like immunoreactivity was distributed throughout the whole nucleus, as defined by the totality of the terminations of brainstem auditory afferents; in other words parvalbumin-like immunoreactivity defines the boundaries of MLd. Staining patterns of parvalbumin, calbindin and calretinin defined two regions of MLd: inner (MLd.I) and outer (MLd.O). MLd.O largely surrounds MLd.I and is distinct from the surrounding intercollicular nucleus. Unlike the case in some non-songbirds, however, the two MLd regions do not correspond to the terminal zones of the projections of the brainstem auditory nuclei angularis and laminaris, which have been found to overlap substantially throughout the nucleus in zebra finches.
PMCID: PMC3119058  PMID: 21701681
10.  Telencephalic Neurons Monosynaptically Link Brainstem and Forebrain Premotor Networks Necessary for Song 
Birdsong, like human speech, is a series of learned vocal gestures resulting from the coordination of vocal and respiratory brainstem networks under the control of the telencephalon. The song motor circuit includes premotor and motor cortical analogs, known as HVC (used as a proper name) and RA (the robust nucleus of the arcopallium), respectively. Previous studies showed that HVC projects to RA and that RA projection neurons (PNs) topographically innervate brainstem vocal-motor and respiratory networks. The idea that singing-related activity flows between HVC and RA in a strictly feedforward manner is a central component of all models of song production. In contrast to this prevailing view of song motor circuit organization, we show that RA sends a reciprocal projection directly to HVC. Lentiviral labeling of RA PN axons and transgene tagging of RA PN synaptic terminals reveal a direct projection from RA to HVC. Retrograde tracing from HVC demonstrates that this projection originates exclusively from neurons in dorsocaudal regions of RA. Using dual retrograde tracer injections, we further show that many of these RAHVC neurons also innervate the brainstem nucleus retroambigualis, which is premotor to expiratory motoneurons, thereby identifying a population of RA PNs positioned to coordinate activity at higher and lower levels of the song motor circuit. In combination, our findings identify a previously unknown pathway that may enable a subset of RA neurons to provide song-related signals to the respiratory brainstem but also transmit a copy of this information to song patterning networks in HVC.
PMCID: PMC2843410  PMID: 18367614
lentivirus; zebra finch; motor control; anterograde; synaptophysin; vocal learning; songbird; avian

Results 1-10 (10)