Gonadal steroid hormones have been shown to influence adult neurogenesis in addition to their well-defined role in regulating social behavior. Adult neurogenesis consists of several processes including cell proliferation, which can be studied via 5-bromo-2′-deoxyuridine (BrdU) labeling. In a previous study we found that social stimulation altered both cell proliferation and levels of circulating gonadal steroids, leaving the issue of cause/effect unclear. In this study, we sought to determine whether socially modulated BrdU-labeling depends on gonadal hormone changes. We investigated this using a gonadectomy-implant paradigm and by exposing male and female green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) to their conspecific chorus or control stimuli (i.e. random tones). Our results indicate that socially modulated cell proliferation occurred independently of gonadal hormone levels; furthermore, neither androgens in males nor estrogen in females increased cell proliferation in the preoptic area (POA) and infundibular hypothalamus, brain regions involved in endocrine regulation and acoustic communication. In fact, elevated estrogen levels decreased cell proliferation in those brain regions in the implanted female. In male frogs, evoked calling behavior was positively correlated with BrdU-labeling in the POA; however, statistical analysis showed that this behavior did not mediate socially induced cell proliferation. These results show that the social modulation of cell proliferation can occur without gonadal hormone involvement in either male or female adult anuran amphibians, and confirms that it is independent of a behavioral response in males.
Amphibian; Cell proliferation; BrdU; Neurogenesis; Acoustic communication; Social behavior; Estrogen; Testosterone
In environments where resources are difficult to obtain and enhanced cognitive capabilities might be adaptive, brain structures associated with cognitive traits may also be enhanced. In our previous studies, we documented a clear and significant relationship among environmental conditions, memory and hippocampal structure using ten populations of black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) over a large geographic range. In addition, focusing on just the two populations from the geographical extremes of our large-scale comparison, Alaska and Kansas, we found enhanced problem-solving capabilities and reduced neophobia in a captive-raised population of black-capped chickadees originating from the energetically demanding environment (Alaska) relative to conspecifics from the milder environment (Kansas). Here, we focused on three brain regions, the arcopallium (AP), the nucleus taeniae of the amygdala and the lateral striatum (LSt), that have been implicated to some extent in aspects of these behaviors in order to investigate whether potential differences in these brain areas may be associated with our previously detected differences in cognition. We compared the variation in neuron number and volumes of these regions between these populations, in both wild-caught birds and captive-raised individuals. Consistent with our behavioral observations, wild-caught birds from Kansas had a larger AP volume than their wild-caught conspecifics from Alaska, which possessed a higher density of neurons in the LSt. However, there were no other significant differences between populations in the wild-caught and captive-raised groups. Interestingly, individuals from the wild had larger LSt and AP volumes with more neurons than those raised in captivity. Overall, we provide some evidence that population-related differences in problem solving and neophobia may be associated with differences in volume and neuron numbers of our target brain regions. However, the relationship is not completely clear, and our study raises numerous questions about the relationship between the brain and behavior, especially in captive animals.
Amygdala; Arcopallium; Avian brain; Fear; Lateral striatum; Learning; Nucleus taeniae of the amygdala
Transmitting information via communicative signals is integral to interacting with conspecifics, and some species achieve this task by varying vocalizations to reflect context. Although signal variation is critical to social interactions, the underlying neural control has not been studied. In response to a predator, black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapilla) produce mobbing calls (chick-a-dee calls) with various parameters, some of which convey information about the threat stimulus. We predicted that vocal parameters indicative of threat would be associated with distinct patterns of neuronal activity within brain areas involved in social behavior and those involved in the sensorimotor control of vocal production. To test this prediction, we measured the syntax and structural aspects of chick-a-dee call production in response to a hawk model and assessed the protein product of the immediate early gene FOS in brain regions implicated in context-specific vocal and social behavior. These regions include the medial preoptic area (POM) and lateral septum (LS), as well as regions involved in vocal motor control, including the dorsomedial nucleus of the intercollicular complex and the HVC. We found correlations linking call rate (previously demonstrated to reflect threat) to labeling in the POM and LS. Labeling in the HVC correlated with the number of D notes per call, which may also signal threat level. Labeling in the call control region dorsomedial nucleus was associated with the structure of D notes and the overall number of notes, but not call rate or type of notes produced. These results suggest that the POM and LS may influence attributes of vocalizations produced in response to predators and that the brain region implicated in song control, the HVC, also influences call production. Because variation in chick-a-dee call rate indicates predator threat, we speculate that these areas could integrate with motor control regions to imbue mobbing signals with additional information about threat level.
Lateral septum; Medial preoptic area; Alarm call; Anti-predator display; Black-capped chickadee
Brain size scales as different functions of its number of neurons across mammalian orders such as rodents, primates, and insectivores. In rodents, we have previously shown that, across a sample of 6 species, from mouse to capybara, the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and the remaining brain structures increase in size faster than they gain neurons, with an accompanying decrease in neuronal density in these structures [Herculano-Houzel et al.: Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2006;103:12138–12143]. Important remaining questions are whether such neuronal scaling rules within an order apply equally to all pertaining species, and whether they extend to closely related taxa. Here, we examine whether 4 other species of Rodentia, as well as the closely related rabbit (Lagomorpha), conform to the scaling rules identified previously for rodents. We report the updated neuronal scaling rules obtained for the average values of each species in a way that is directly comparable to the scaling rules that apply to primates [Gabi et al.: Brain Behav Evol 2010;76:32–44], and examine whether the scaling relationships are affected when phylogenetic relatedness in the dataset is accounted for. We have found that the brains of the spiny rat, squirrel, prairie dog and rabbit conform to the neuronal scaling rules that apply to the previous sample of rodents. The conformity to the previous rules of the new set of species, which includes the rabbit, suggests that the cellular scaling rules we have identified apply to rodents in general, and probably to Glires as a whole (rodents/lagomorphs), with one notable exception: the naked mole-rat brain is apparently an outlier, with only about half of the neurons expected from its brain size in its cerebral cortex and cerebellum.
Rodents; Brain size; Evolution; Neurons; Glia; Glires
Differences in cognitive abilities and the relatively large brain are among the most striking differences between humans and their closest primate relatives. The energy trade-off hypothesis predicts that a major shift in energy allocation among tissues occurred during human origins in order to support the remarkable expansion of a metabolically expensive brain. However, the molecular basis of this adaptive scenario is unknown. Two glucose transporters (SLC2A1 and SLC2A4) are promising candidates and present intriguing mutations in humans, resulting, respectively, in microcephaly and disruptions in whole-body glucose homeostasis. We compared SLC2A1 and SLC2A4 expression between humans, chimpanzees and macaques, and found compensatory and biologically significant expression changes on the human lineage within cerebral cortex and skeletal muscle, consistent with mediating an energy trade-off. We also show that these two genes are likely to have undergone adaptation and participated in the development and maintenance of a larger brain in the human lineage by modulating brain and skeletal muscle energy allocation. We found that these two genes show human-specific signatures of positive selection on known regulatory elements within their 5′-untranslated region, suggesting an adaptation of their regulation during human origins. This study represents the first case where adaptive, functional and genetic lines of evidence implicate specific genes in the evolution of human brain size.
Glucose; Transporters; Brain; Evolution; Primates
Biologists have long been interested in both the regularities and the deviations in the relationship between brain, development, ecology, and behavior between taxa. We first examine some basic information about the observed ranges of fundamental changes in developmental parameters (i.e. neurogenesis timing, cell cycle rates, and gene expression patterns) between taxa. Next, we review what is known about the relative importance of different kinds of developmental mechanisms in producing brain change, focusing on mechanisms of segmentation, local and general features of neurogenesis, and cell cycle kinetics. We suggest that a limited set of developmental alterations of the vertebrate nervous system typically occur and that each kind of developmental change may entail unique anatomical, functional, and behavioral consequences for the organism. Thus, neuroecologists who posit a direct mapping of brain size to behavior should consider that not any change in brain anatomy is possible.
Neurogenesis; Evolution; Development; Mammals; Birds
Predation pressure represents a strong selective force that influences the development and evolution of living organisms. An increasing number of studies have shown that both environmental and social factors, including exposure to predators, substantially shape the structure and function of the brain. However, our knowledge about the molecular mechanisms underlying the response of the brain to environmental stimuli is limited. In this study, we used whole-genome comparative oligonucleotide microarrays to investigate the brain transcriptomic response to cues of a predator in the threespine stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus. We found that repeated exposure to olfactory, visual and tactile cues of a predator (rainbow trout, Oncorrhynchus mykiss) for 6 days resulted in subtle but significant transcriptomic changes in the brain of sticklebacks. Gene functional analysis and gene ontology enrichment revealed that the majority of the transcripts differentially expressed between the fish exposed to cues of a predator and the control group were related to antigen processing and presentation involving the major histocompatibility complex, transmission of synaptic signals, brain metabolic processes, gene regulation and visual perception. The top four identified pathways were synaptic long-term depression, RAN signaling, relaxin signaling and phototransduction. Our study demonstrates that exposure of sticklebacks to cues of a predator results in the activation of a wide range of biological and molecular processes and lays the foundation for future investigations on the molecular factors that modulate the function and evolution of the brain in response to stressors.
Neurogenomics; Stress; Predation; Microarray; Gene expression; Gasterosteus aculeatus
We previously reported that in a eusocial rodent, the naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber), traditional neural sex differences were absent; instead, neural dimorphisms were associated with breeding status. Here we examined the same neural regions previously studied in naked mole-rats in a second eusocial species, the Damaraland mole-rat (Fukomys damarensis). Damaraland mole-rats live in social groups with breeding restricted to a small number of animals. However, colony sizes are much smaller in Damaraland mole-rats than in naked mole-rats and there is consequently less reproductive skew. In this sense, Damaraland mole-rats may be considered intermediate in social organization between naked mole-rats and more traditional laboratory rodents. We report that, as in naked mole-rats, breeding Damaraland mole-rats have larger volumes of the principal nucleus of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus than do subordinates, with no effect of sex on these measures. Thus, these structures may play special roles in breeders of eusocial species. However, in contrast to what was seen in naked mole-rats, we also found sex differences in Damaraland mole-rats: volume of the medial amygdala and motoneuron number in Onuf's nucleus were both greater in males than in females, with no significant effect of breeding status. Thus, both sex and breeding status influence neural morphology in Damaraland mole-rats. These findings are in accord with the observed sex differences in body weight and genitalia in Damaraland but not naked mole-rats. We hypothesize that the increased sexual dimorphism in Damaraland mole-rats relative to naked mole-rats is related to reduced reproductive skew.
Bed nucleus of the stria terminalis; Damaraland mole-rat; Medial amygdala; Naked mole-rat; Onuf's nucleus; Paraventricular nucleus; Sex difference; Social status
Rodents are a major order of mammals that is highly diverse in distribution and lifestyle. Five suborders, 34 families, and 2,277 species within this order occupy a number of different niches and vary along several lifestyle dimensions such as diel pattern (diurnal vs. nocturnal), terrain niche, and diet. For example, the terrain niche of rodents includes arboreal, aerial, terrestrial, semi-aquatic, burrowing, and rock dwelling. Not surprisingly, the behaviors associated with particular lifestyles are also highly variable and thus the neocortex, which generates these behaviors, has undergone corresponding alterations across species. Studies of cortical organization in species that vary along several dimensions such as terrain niche, diel pattern, and rearing conditions demonstrate that the size and number of cortical fields can be highly variable within this order. The internal organization of a cortical field also reflects lifestyle differences between species and exaggerates behaviorally relevant effectors such as vibrissae, teeth, or lips. Finally, at a cellular level, neuronal number and density varies for the same cortical field in different species and is even different for the same species reared in different conditions (laboratory vs. wild-caught). These very large differences across and within rodent species indicate that there is no generic rodent model. Rather, there are rodent models suited for specific questions regarding the development, function, and evolution of the neocortex.
Rats; Mice; Somatosensory cortex; Visual cortex; Auditory cortex; Motor cortex; Evolution
In this study we examine the size of primary sensory areas in the neocortex and the cellular composition of area 17/V1 in three rodent groups: laboratory nocturnal Norway rats (Long-Evans; Rattus norvegicus), wild-caught nocturnal Norway rats (R. norvegicus), and laboratory diurnal Nile grass rats (Arvicanthis niloticus). Specifically, we used areal measures of myeloarchitecture of the primary sensory areas to compare area size and the isotropic fractionator method to estimate the number of neurons and nonneurons in area 17 in each species. Our results demonstrate that the percentage of cortex devoted to area 17 is significantly greater and the percentage of cortex devoted to S1 is significantly smaller in the diurnal Nile grass rat compared with the nocturnal Norway rat groups. Further, the laboratory rodent groups have a greater percentage of cortex devoted to auditory cortex compared with the wild-caught group. We also demonstrate that wild-caught rats have a greater density of neurons in area 17 compared to laboratory-reared animals. However, there were no other clear cellular composition differences in area 17 or differences in the percentage of brain weight devoted to area 17 between nocturnal and diurnal rats. Thus, there are differences in primary sensory area size between diurnal versus nocturnal and laboratory versus wild-caught rat groups and cellular density between wild-caught and laboratory rat groups. Our results demonstrate that the differences in the size and cellular composition of cortical areas do not fit with what would be expected based on brain scaling differences alone, and have a consistent relationship with lifestyle and sensory morphology.
Architecture; Area 17; Cellular composition; Evolution; Isotropic fractionator; Vision
Gorillas and orangutans are primates at least as large as humans, but their brains amount to about one third of the size of the human brain. This discrepancy has been used as evidence that the human brain is about 3 times larger than it should be for a primate species of its body size. In contrast to the view that the human brain is special in its size, we have suggested that it is the great apes that might have evolved bodies that are unusually large, on the basis of our recent finding that the cellular composition of the human brain matches that expected for a primate brain of its size, making the human brain a linearly scaled-up primate brain in its number of cells. To investigate whether the brain of great apes also conforms to the primate cellular scaling rules identified previously, we determine the numbers of neuronal and other cells that compose the orangutan and gorilla cerebella, use these numbers to calculate the size of the brain and of the cerebral cortex expected for these species, and show that these match the sizes described in the literature. Our results suggest that the brains of great apes also scale linearly in their numbers of neurons like other primate brains, including humans. The conformity of great apes and humans to the linear cellular scaling rules that apply to other primates that diverged earlier in primate evolution indicates that prehistoric Homo species as well as other hominins must have had brains that conformed to the same scaling rules, irrespective of their body size. We then used those scaling rules and published estimated brain volumes for various hominin species to predict the numbers of neurons that composed their brains. We predict that Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis had brains with approximately 80 billion neurons, within the range of variation found in modern Homo sapiens. We propose that while the cellular scaling rules that apply to the primate brain have remained stable in hominin evolution (since they apply to simians, great apes and modern humans alike), the Colobinae and Pongidae lineages favored marked increases in body size rather than brain size from the common ancestor with the Homo lineage, while the Homo lineage seems to have favored a large brain instead of a large body, possibly due to the metabolic limitations to having both.
Allometry; Brain size; Great apes; Human; Evolution, human; Neurons, number
In the bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana), the process of metamorphosis culminates in the appearance of new visual and visuomotor behaviors reflective of the emergence of binocular vision and visually-guided prey capture behaviors as the animal transitions to life on land. Using several different neuroanatomical tracers, we examined the substrates that may underlie these behavioral changes by tracing the afferent and efferent connectivity of the midbrain optic tectum across metamorphic development. Intratectal, tectotoral, tectotegmental, tectobulbar, and tecto-thalamic tracts exhibit similar trajectories of neurobiotin fiber label across the developmental span from early larval tadpoles to adults. Developmental variability was apparent primarily in intensity and distribution of cell and puncta label in target nuclei. Combined injections of cholera toxin subunit β and Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin consistently label cell bodies, puncta, or fiber segments bilaterally in midbrain targets including the pretectal gray, laminar nucleus of the torus semicircularis, and the nucleus of the medial longitudinal fasciculus. Developmentally stable label was observed bilaterally in medullary targets including the medial vestibular nucleus, lateral vestibular nucleus, and reticular gray, and in forebrain targets including the posterior and ventromedial nuclei of the thalamus. The nucleus isthmi, cerebellum, lateral line nuclei, medial septum, ventral striatum, and medial pallium show more developmentally variable patterns of connectivity. Our results suggest that even during larval development, the optic tectum contains substrates for integration of visual with auditory, vestibular, and somatosensory cues, as well as for guidance of motivated behaviors.
Medial septum; Metamorphosis; Midbrain; Multisensory convergence; Nucleus isthmi; Optic tectum; Tadpole; Thalamus
Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) has become an increasingly common method for assessing neuroanatomical asymmetries in human in vivo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Here, we employed VBM to examine asymmetries in white matter in a sample of 48 chimpanzees (15 males and 33 females). T1-weighted MRI scans were segmented into white matter using FSL and registered to a common template. The segmented volumes were then flipped in the left-right axis and registered back to the template. The mirror image white matter volumes were then subtracted from the correctly oriented volumes and voxel-by-voxel t tests were performed. Twenty-seven significant lateralized clusters were found, including 18 in the left hemisphere and 9 in the right hemisphere. Several of the asymmetries were found in regions corresponding to well-known white matter tracts including the superior longitudinal fasciculus, inferior longitudinal fasciculus and corticospinal tract.
Chimpanzees; Brain asymmetry; White matter; Language evolution
What are the rules relating the size of the brain and its structures to the number of cells that compose them and their average sizes? We have shown previously that the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and the remaining brain structures increase in size as a linear function of their numbers of neurons and non-neuronal cells across 6 species of primates. Here we describe that the cellular composition of the same brain structures of 5 other primate species, as well as humans, conform to the scaling rules identified previously, and that the updated power functions for the extended sample are similar to those determined earlier. Accounting for phylogenetic relatedness in the combined dataset does not affect the scaling slopes that apply to the cerebral cortex and cerebellum, but alters the slope for the remaining brain structures to a value that is similar to that observed in rodents, which raises the possibility that the neuronal scaling rules for these structures are shared among rodents and primates. The conformity of the new set of primate species to the previous rules strongly suggests that the cellular scaling rules we have identified apply to primates in general, including humans, and not only to particular subgroups of primate species. In contrast, the allometric rules relating body and brain size are highly sensitive to the particular species sampled, suggesting that brain size is neither determined by body size nor together with it, but is rather only loosely correlated with body size.
Allometry; Brain size; Evolution; Glia, number; Neurons, number; Primates
The spinal cord can be considered a major sensorimotor interface between the body and the brain. How does the spinal cord scale with body and brain mass, and how are its numbers of neurons related to the number of neurons in the brain across species of different body and brain sizes? Here we determine the cellular composition of the spinal cord in eight primate species and find that its number of neurons varies as a linear function of cord length, and accompanies body mass raised to an exponent close to 1/3. This relationship suggests that the extension, mass and number of neurons that compose the spinal cord are related to body length, rather than to body mass or surface. Moreover, we show that although brain mass increases linearly with cord mass, the number of neurons in the brain increases with the number of neurons in the spinal cord raised to the power of 1.7. This faster addition of neurons to the brain than to the spinal cord is consistent with current views on how larger brains add complexity to the processing of environmental and somatic information.
Allometry; Number of neurons; Evolution; Connectivity
Birds have excellent visual abilities that are comparable or superior to those of primates, but how the bird brain solves complex visual problems is poorly understood. More specifically, we lack knowledge about how such superb abilities are used in nature and how the brain, especially the telencephalon, is organized to process visual information. Here we review the results of several studies that examine the organization of the avian telencephalon and the relevance of visual abilities to avian social and reproductive behavior. Video playback and photographic stimuli show that birds can detect and evaluate subtle differences in local facial features of potential mates in a fashion similar to that of primates. These techniques have also revealed that birds do not attend well to global configural changes in the face, suggesting a fundamental difference between birds and primates in face perception. The telencephalon plays a major role in the visual and visuo-cognitive abilities of birds and primates, and anatomical data suggest that these animals may share similar organizational characteristics in the visual telencephalon. As is true in the primate cerebral cortex, different visual features are processed separately in the avian telencephalon where separate channels are organized in the anterior-posterior axis roughly parallel to the major laminae. Furthermore, the efferent projections from the primary visual telencephalon form an extensive column-like continuum involving the dorsolateral pallium and the lateral basal ganglia. Such a column-like organization may exist not only for vision, but for other sensory modalities and even for a continuum that links sensory and limbic areas of the avian brain. Behavioral and neural studies must be integrated in order to understand how birds have developed their amazing visual systems through 150 million years of evolution.
Birds; Columnar organization; Courtship; Parallel processing; Pigeons
Neural systems mediating motivation and reward have been well described in mammalian model systems, especially with reference to reward properties of drugs of abuse. Far less is known of the neural mechanisms underlying motivation and reward in non-mammals. The behavioral procedure conditioned place preference (CPP) is often used to quantify reward properties of psychoactive drugs. The indirect dopamine agonist d-amphetamine (AMPH) is known for its properties for inducing CPP in mammals and for inducing dose-related stereotypic movements. We used the green tree frog, Hyla cinerea, to examine whether AMPH could induce both CPP and a dose response change in motor behaviors. We demonstrated that H. cinerea can show place conditioning to AMPH following 14 days of training and that AMPH can cause reversal of a strong baseline place preference. Amphetamine-treated animals (20 mg/kg b.w.) received the drug paired with the previously non-preferred context, and vehicle paired with the preferred context. Control animals received vehicle in both preferred and non-preferred contexts. Amphetamine-treated animals switched context preference following conditioning, whereas control animals did not. We also demonstrated in an open-field experiment that AMPH did not cause any noticeable changes in motor movement or behaviors across a range of doses (0, 10, 20 mg/kg b.w.). This study represents the first examination of the behavioral effects of AMPH in amphibians. These results may contribute to a better understanding of the function and pharmacology of a reward system that may mediate natural behaviors in frogs and other vertebrates.
Amphetamine; Amphibian; Catecholamine; Conditioned place preference; Dopamine; Frog; Hyla cinerea; Locomotor activity; Motivation; Motor; Non-mammal; Reward
We exposed groups of adult male green treefrogs, Hyla cinerea, to acoustic stimuli (natural chorus or random tones) for seven consecutive nights at three time points during their natural breeding season (May, July, and September) and assessed seasonal changes in plasma androgen levels and number of arginine vasotocin (AVT) immunoreactive cells in the brain over this time period. We also tested whether social cues altered either androgens or AVT-ir cell number or size at each time point. Finally, we analyzed how these factors related to calling behavior. Data were collected over two breeding seasons. Call rate (calls/h) was assessed during the stimulus time (i.e. ‘evoked calling’) and during the remainder of the day (‘spontaneous calling’). Plasma hormone levels were measured at the end of the acoustic treatment when brains were collected for immunocytochemistry. Circulating androgen levels declined over the breeding season. Males exposed to chorus sounds, however, had higher androgen levels than males exposed to tones. AVT-ir cell number increased across the breeding season in the nucleus accumbens but not the amygdala, anterior preoptic area, or magnocellular preoptic area, and soma size decreased in the nucleus accumbens as cell number increased. Social stimulation had no significant influence on either AVT-ir cell measure. Evoked call rate was higher in males exposed to natural chorus sounds compared to those exposed to random tones, but did not change during the season. In contrast, spontaneous call rate was higher at the beginning of the breeding season compared to the end, and unlike evoked calling was correlated with circulating androgen levels across all treatments and time points. AVT-ir soma size was positively correlated with both evoked and spontaneous calling. These results suggest that social exposure can prolong the elevation of gonadal hormones in the bloodstream, thus mitigating or slowing the seasonal decline of such hormones. In contrast, social exposure does not affect the seasonal pattern of AVT-ir cell number or soma size. The reciprocal relationship between social cues and hormones and the subsequent effect on behavior may provide hidden benefits to animals engaging in social interactions. However, unlike steroid hormone levels, the seasonal change in AVT-ir cell number and size is not counteracted by social stimulation.
Amphibian; Androgens; Arginine vasotocin; Communication; Seasonality
Adult galliform birds (e.g. chickens) exhibit a relatively small telencephalon and a proportionately large optic tectum compared with parrots and songbirds. We previously examined the embryonic origins of these adult species differences and found that the optic tectum is larger in quail than in parakeets and songbirds at early stages of development, prior to tectal neurogenesis onset. The aim of this study was to determine whether a proportionately large presumptive tectum is a primitive condition within birds or a derived feature of quail and other galliform birds. To this end, we examined embryonic brains of several avian species (emus, parrots, songbirds, waterfowl, galliform birds), reptiles (3 lizard species, alligators, turtles) and a monotreme (platypuses). Brain region volumes were estimated from serial Nissl-stained sections. We found that the embryos of galliform birds and lizards exhibit a proportionally larger presumptive tectum than all the other examined species. The presumptive tectum of the platypus is unusually small. The most parsimonious interpretation of these data is that the expanded embryonic tectum of lizards and galliform birds is a derived feature in both of these taxonomic groups.
Bird; Development; Mammal; Monotreme; Reptile; Tectum; Vision
Birds that forage on the ground have been studied extensively in relation to behavioral trade-offs between foraging and scanning for predators; however, we know little about the topography of their retinas, which can influence how they gather visual information. We characterized the density of retinal ganglion cells across the retina and estimated visual acuity of four Passeriformes (European starling Sturnus vulgaris, brown-headed cowbird Molothrus ater, house sparrow Passer domesticus, house finch Carpodacus mexicanus) and one Columbiforme (mourning dove Zenaida macroura) that forage on the ground. We used cresyl violet to stain retinal ganglion cells and estimated visual acuity based on cell density and eye size. All species contained a single area centralis, where cell densities were >20,000 cells/mm2. The proportion of the retina that fell in each of five cell density ranges varied between species. European starlings and house finches had the largest area of high cell density, mourning doves had the smallest. The largest proportion of the retina (>35%) of brown-headed cowbird and house sparrow was in the second-lowest cell density range. Considering the 25th percentile of highest cell densities, house finches and European starlings showed the highest cell densities and mourning doves the lowest. Estimated visual acuity increased from house finch, house sparrow, brown-headed cowbird, European starling to mourning dove, and was associated with both retinal area and cell density. Our findings suggest that these ground foragers do not have highly specialized retinas in relation to other types of foragers (e.g. tree foragers), probably because foraging on seeds and insects from the ground is not as visually demanding; however, the studied species showed variability in retinal topography that may be related to foraging techniques, eye size constraints, and size of the area centralis.
Birds; Columbiformes; Ganglion cells; Passeriformes; Retinal topography; Vigilance; Visual acuity
Brain plasticity is a common phenomenon across animals and in many cases it is associated with behavioral transitions. In social insects, such as bees, wasps and ants, plasticity in a particular brain compartment involved in multisensory integration (the mushroom body) has been associated with transitions between tasks differing in cognitive demands. However, in most of these cases, transitions between tasks are age-related, requiring the experimental manipulation of the age structure in the studied colonies to distinguish age and experience-dependent effects. To better understand the interplay between brain plasticity and behavioral performance it would therefore be advantageous to study species whose division of labor is not age-dependent. Here, we focus on brain plasticity in the bumblebee Bombus occidentalis, in which division of labor is strongly affected by the individual's body size instead of age. We show that, like in vertebrates, body size strongly correlates with brain size. We also show that foraging experience, but not age, significantly correlates with the increase in the size of the mushroom body, and in particular one of its components, the medial calyx. Our results support previous findings from other social insects suggesting that the mushroom body plays a key role in experience-based decision making. We also discuss the use of bumblebees as models to analyze neural plasticity and the association between brain size and behavioral performance.
Bombus; Honeybee; Brain size; Cognition
Evolutionary transitions between nocturnal and diurnal patterns of adaptation to the day-night cycle must have involved fundamental changes in the neural mechanisms that coordinate the daily patterning of activity, but little is known about how these mechanisms differ. One reason is that information on these systems in very closely related diurnal and nocturnal species is lacking. In this study, we characterize the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the primary brain structure involved in the generation and coordination of circadian rhythms, in two members of the genus Acomys with very different activity patterns, Acomys russatus (the golden spiny mouse, diurnal) and Acomys cahirinus (the common spiny mouse, nocturnal). Immunohistochemical techniques were used to label cell bodies containing vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), vasopressin (VP), gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) and calbindin (CalB) in the SCN, as well as two sets of inputs to it, those containing serotonin (5-HT) and neuropeptide Y (NPY), respectively. All were present in the SCN of both species and no differences between them were seen. On the basis of neuronal phenotype, the SCN was organized into three basic regions that contained VIP-immunoreactive (-ir), CalB-ir and VP-ir cells, in the ventral, middle and dorsal SCN, respectively. In the rostral SCN, GRP-ir cells were in both the VIP and the CalB cell regions, and in the caudal area they were distributed across a portion of each of the other three regions. Fibers containing NPY-ir and serotonin (5-HT)-ir were most concentrated in the areas containing VIP-ir and CalB-ir cells, respectively. The details of the spatial relationships among the labeled cells and fibers seen here are discussed in relation to different approaches investigators have taken to characterize the SCN more generally.
Suprachiasmatic nucleus; Nocturnal; Diurnal; Acomys; Serotonin; Vasopressin; Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide; Calbindin; Gastrin-releasing peptide; Neuropeptide Y
In most vertebrate species, the production of vasotocin (VT; non-mammals) and vasopressin (VP; mammals) in the medial bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTm) waxes and wanes with seasonal reproductive state; however, opportunistically breeding species might need to maintain high levels of this behaviorally relevant neuropeptide year-round in anticipation of unpredictable breeding opportunities. We here provide support for this hypothesis and demonstrate that these neurons are instead regulated ‘cryptically’ via hormonal regulation of their activity levels, which may be rapidly modified to adjust VT signaling. First, we show that combined treatment of male and female zebra finches (Estrildidae: Taeniopygia guttata) with the androgen receptor antagonist flutamide and the aromatase inhibitor 1,4,6-androstatriene-3,17-dione does not alter the expression of VT immunoreactivity within the BSTm; however, both hormonal treatment and social housing environment (same-sex versus mixed-sex) alter VT colocalization with the immediate early gene product Fos (a proxy marker of neural activation) in the BSTm. In a second experiment, manipulations of estradiol (E2) levels with the aromatase inhibitor letrozole (LET) or subcutaneous E2 implants failed to alter colocalization, suggesting that the colocalization effects in experiment 1 were solely androgenic. LET treatment also did not affect VT immunoreactivity in a manner reversible by E2 treatment. Finally, comparisons of VT immunoreactivity in breeding and nonbreeding individuals of several estrildid species demonstrate that year-round stability of VT immunoreactivity is found only in highly opportunistic species, and is therefore not essential to the maintenance of long-term pair bonds, which are ubiquitous in the Estrildidae.
Zebra finch; Bird; Vasotocin; Vasopressin; c-fos; Testosterone; Estradiol; Seasonality; Bed nucleus of the stria terminalis; Lateral septum
Pairs of individuals breed together only if they recognize each other as the same species, but the process of recognizing conspecifics can depend on flexible criteria even when species-specific signals are innate and fixed. This study examines species recognition in naturally hybridizing sister species, California and Gambel's quail (Callipepla californica and Callipepla gambelii), that have vocalizations which are not learned. Specifically, this study tests whether being raised in a vocalizing mixed-species cohort affects neural activity in the adult auditory forebrain in response to heterospecific and conspecific calls. After hatching, quail chicks were raised either with their own kind or with both species. Once reaching reproductive condition, each adult was played a recording that was one of three types: Gambel's quail opposite-sex contact calls; California quail opposite-sex contact calls; or synthetic tones. Brains were collected following playback and assessed for neuronal activity by quantifying expression of the protein of the immediate early gene, ZENK, in two brain regions, the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM) and the caudomedial mesopallium (CMM). ZENK levels were greater in NCM of males than females, but female NCM cells responded differentially to conspecific compared to heterospecific calls. Namely, females had more immuno-positive NCM cells when they heard conspecific calls rather than heterospecific male calls. Early experience with heterospecific broodmates did not alter neural responses in the NCM or CMM to heterospecific vocalizations. This study suggests that the NCM plays a role in species discrimination but that rearing condition does not alter the response in these non-vocal-learning species.
Species discrimination; Vocalization; Zenk; Forebrain; Caudomedial nidopallium; Mesopallium; Quail