"How does behavior change the brain? One way is by changing the expression of genes. A specific behavior can activate many, many genes. How we behave can, over time, actually change genes in our brain and affect how we subsequently behave."
White's laboratory showed in earlier research that when adult male zebra finches sing, there is a dramatic decrease in the amount of FoxP2 in Area X.
In the current study, Julie Miller, a UCLA assistant researcher in integrative biology and physiology who conducts research in White's laboratory, let 27 male zebra finches sing as much as they wanted (18 of them sang) for two hours in the morning an activity that reduces FoxP2.
She then removed Area X from the zebra finches' basal ganglia. She also removed the tissue next to Area X, which is still part of the basal ganglia and contains the same genes but is not important for singing; this tissue is involved in movements such as flying and perching.
Miller and Austin Hilliard, a graduate student in UCLA's neuroscience interdepartmental program who also conduct research in White's lab, then studied whether the same genes were changing in Area X and in the other tissue. Genes can be "on" or "off," but there are degrees, like with a light dimmer, White noted.
"You ask, 'Is it the same suite of molecules going up and down when the bird sings as when the bird hops?' The answer is no; they are very different," White said. "We know exactly what neurons are controlling this behavior. We can isolate them."
|Contact: Stuart Wolpert|
University of California - Los Angeles