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Expression analysis of the speech-related genes FoxP1 and FoxP2 and their relation to singing behavior in two songbird species


Humans and songbirds are among the rare animal groups that exhibit socially learned vocalizations: speech and song, respectively. These vocal-learning capacities share a reliance on audition and cortico-basal ganglia circuitry, as well as neurogenetic mechanisms. Notably, the transcription factors Forkhead box proteins 1 and 2 (FoxP1, FoxP2) exhibit similar expression patterns in the cortex and basal ganglia of humans and the zebra finch species of songbird, among other brain regions. Mutations in either gene are associated with language disorders in humans. Experimental knock-down of FoxP2 in the basal ganglia song control region Area X during song development leads to imprecise copying of tutor songs. Moreover, FoxP2 levels decrease naturally within Area X when zebra finches sing. Here, we examined neural expression patterns of FoxP1 and FoxP2 mRNA in adult Bengalese finches, a songbird species whose songs exhibit greater sequence complexity and increased reliance on audition for maintaining their quality. We found that FoxP1 and FoxP2 expression in Bengalese finches is similar to that in zebra finches, including strong mRNA signals for both factors in multiple song control nuclei and enhancement of FoxP1 in these regions relative to surrounding brain tissue. As with zebra finches, when Bengalese finches sing, FoxP2 is behaviorally downregulated within basal ganglia Area X over a similar time course, and expression negatively correlates with the amount of singing. This study confirms that in multiple songbird species, FoxP1 expression highlights song control regions, and regulation of FoxP2 is associated with motor control of song.

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