ZENK protein regulation by song in the brain of songbirds

Claudio V. Mello, Sidarta Ribeiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

203 Scopus citations


When songbirds hear the song of another individual of the same species or when they sing, the mRNA levels of the ZENK gene increase rapidly in forebrain areas involved in vocal communication. This gene induction is thought to be related to long-term neuronal change and possibly the formation of song-related memories. We used immunocytochemistry to study the levels and distribution of ZENK protein in the brain of zebra finches and canaries after presentation of song playbacks. Birds that heard the playbacks and did not sing in response showed increased ZENK protein levels in auditory brain areas, including the caudomedial neostriatum and hyperstriatum ventrale, fields L1 and L3, the shelf adjacent to the high vocal center (HVC), the cup adjacent to the nucleus robustus archistriatalis (RA), and the nucleus mesencephalicus lateralis pars dorsalis (MLd). No ZENK expression was seen in song nuclei in these birds. Males that sang in response to the playbacks showed, in addition to auditory areas, increased ZENK protein in several song control nuclei, most prominently in HVC, RA, area X, and the dorsomedial nucleus (DN) of the intercollicular complex. The rise in ZENK protein. followed that described previously for ZENK mRNA by a short lag, and the distribution of ZENK-labeled cells was in agreement with previous analysis of mRNA distribution. Thus, ZENK protein regulation can be used to assess activation of brain areas involved in perceptual and motor aspects of song. Possible implications of ZENK induction in these areas are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)426-438
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 20 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Auditory
  • Avian
  • Immediate-early gene
  • Memory
  • Plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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