Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Singing for you, babe.

Ostensibly about bird song, it brings in topics such as social cues, context-driven gene expression, mating behavior, and attention. Science is yummy.

However, this hypothesis predicts that directed–undirected song differences, despite their subtlety, should matter to female zebra finches, which is a question that has not been investigated. We tested female preferences for this natural variation in song in a behavioral approach assay, and we found that both mated and socially naive females could discriminate between directed and undirected song—and strongly preferred directed song. These preferences, which appeared to reflect attention especially to aspects of song variability controlled by the AFP, were enhanced by experience, as they were strongest for mated females responding to their mate's directed songs. We then measured neural activity using expression of the immediate early gene product ZENK, and found that social context and song familiarity differentially modulated the number of ZENK-expressing cells in telencephalic auditory areas. Specifically, the number of ZENK-expressing cells in the caudomedial mesopallium (CMM) was most affected by whether a song was directed or undirected, whereas the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM) was most affected by whether a song was familiar or unfamiliar. Together these data demonstrate that females detect and prefer the features of directed song and suggest that high-level auditory areas including the CMM are involved in this social perception.

Woolley SC, Doupe AJ (2008) Social Context–Induced Song Variation Affects Female Behavior and Gene Expression. PLoS Biol 6(3): e62 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060062

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