Impact of experience-dependent and -independent factors on gene expression in songbird brain.
Songbirds provide rich natural models for studying the relationships between brain anatomy, behavior, environmental signals, and gene expression. Under the Songbird Neurogenomics Initiative, investigators from 11 laboratories collected brain samples from six species of songbird under a range of experimental conditions, and 488 of these samples were analyzed systematically for gene expression by microarray. ANOVA was used to test 32 planned contrasts in the data, revealing the relative impact of different factors. The brain region from which tissue was taken had the greatest influence on gene expression profile, affecting the majority of signals measured by 18,848 cDNA spots on the microarray. Social and environmental manipulations had a highly variable impact, interpreted here as a manifestation of paradoxical "constitutive plasticity" (fewer inducible genes) during periods of enhanced behavioral responsiveness. Several specific genes were identified that may be important in the evolution of linkages between environmental signals and behavior. The data were also analyzed using weighted gene coexpression network analysis, followed by gene ontology analysis. This revealed modules of coexpressed genes that are also enriched for specific functional annotations, such as "ribosome" (expressed more highly in juvenile brain) and "dopamine metabolic process" (expressed more highly in striatal song control nucleus area X). These results underscore the complexity of influences on neural gene expression and provide a resource for studying how these influences are integrated during natural experience.