Norepinephrine (NE) is thought to play important roles in the consolidation and retrieval of long-term memories, but its role in the processing and memorization of complex acoustic signals used for vocal communication has yet to be determined. We have used a combination of gene expression analysis, electrophysiological recordings and pharmacological manipulations in zebra finches to examine the role of noradrenergic transmission in the brain's response to birdsong, a learned vocal behavior that shares important features with human speech. We show that noradrenergic transmission is required for both the expression of activity-dependent genes and the long-term maintenance of stimulus-specific electrophysiological adaptation that are induced in central auditory neurons by stimulation with birdsong. Specifically, we show that the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM), an area directly involved in the auditory processing and memorization of birdsong, receives strong noradrenergic innervation. Song-responsive neurons in this area express α-adrenergic receptors and are in close proximity to noradrenergic terminals. We further show that local α-adrenergic antagonism interferes with song-induced gene expression, without affecting spontaneous or evoked electrophysiological activity, thus dissociating the molecular and electrophysiological responses to song. Moreover, α-adrenergic antagonism disrupts the maintenance but not the acquisition of the adapted physiological state. We suggest that the noradrenergic system regulates long-term changes in song-responsive neurons by modulating the gene expression response that is associated with the electrophysiological activation triggered by song. We also suggest that this mechanism may be an important contributor to long-term auditory memories of learned vocalizations.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)