Background: Vocal learning is a rare and complex behavioral trait that serves as a basis for the acquisition of human spoken language. In songbirds, vocal learning and production depend on a set of specialized brain nuclei known as the song system. Methodology/Principal Findings: Using high-throughput functional genomics we have identified ∼200 novel molecular markers of adult zebra finch HVC, a key node of the song system. These markers clearly differentiate HVC from the general pallial region to which HVC belongs, and thus represent molecular specializations of this song nucleus. Bioinformatics analysis reveals that several major neuronal cell functions and specific biochemical pathways are the targets of transcriptional regulation in HVC, including: 1) cell-cell and cell-substrate interactions (e.g., cadhecin/catenin-mediated adherens junctions, collagen-mediated focal adhesions, and semaphorin-neuropilin/ plexin axon guidance pathways); 2) cell excitability (e.g., potassium channel subfamilies, cholinergic and serotonergic receptors, neuropeptides and neuropeptide receptors); 3) signal transduction (e.g., calcium regulatory proteins, regulators of G-protein-related signaling); 4) cell proliferation/death, migration and differentiation (e.g., TGF-beta/BMP and p53 pathways); and 5) regulation of gene expression (candidate retinoid and steroid targets, modulators of chromatin/ nucleolar organization). The overall direction of regulation suggest that processes related to cell stability are enhanced, whereas proliferation, growth and plasticity are largely suppressed in adult HVC, consistent with the observation that song in this songbird species is mostly stable in adulthood. Conclusions/Significance: Our study represents one of the most comprehensive molecular genetic characterizations of a brain nucleus involved in a complex learned behavior in a vertebrate. The data indicate numerous targets for pharmacological and genetic manipulations of the song system, and provide novel insights into mechanisms that might play a role in the regulation of song behavior and/or vocal learning.
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