Song-induced ZENK gene expression in auditory pathways of songbird brain and its relation to the song control system

Claudio V. Mello, David F. Clayton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

305 Scopus citations


The ZENK gene encodes a zinc-finger-containing transcriptional regulator and can be rapidly activated in songbird brain by presentation of birdsong (Mello et al., 1992). Here we map the areas of the songbird forebrain that show this genomic response to birdsong, using in situ hybridization. After 30 min of song presentation ZENK mRNA levels reach a peak in the caudomedial telencephalon, in areas adjacent to or closely related with primary auditory structures. These areas include subfields of field L (L1 and L3), the caudomedial neostriatum (NCM), the caudomedial hyperstriatum ventrale (CMHV) anterior to field L, the caudal paleostriatum, and two field L targets, HVC shelf and RA cup. In contrast, ZENK induction is absent in some areas that show a response to song by other measures and where ZENK induction might have been expected. These include the direct thalamo-recipient field L subfield L2, and the nuclei of the circuit involved in the acquisition and production of learned song. These results demonstrate that ZENK induction following song presentation occurs only in a subset of areas physiologically activated by song, and draw attention to areas previously unsuspected as related to processing of complex auditory stimuli. Based on what is known about ZENK function in mammalian systems (Christy et al., 1989; Cole et al., 1989; Wisden et al., 1990), we speculate that areas revealed by ZENK induction might correspond to sites where critical neuronal modifications occur in response to birdsong presentation, possibly leading to the formation of song- related memories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6652-6666
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number11 I
StatePublished - 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • NCM
  • ZENK
  • birdsong
  • field L
  • immediate-early gene
  • song control circuit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Song-induced ZENK gene expression in auditory pathways of songbird brain and its relation to the song control system'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this