Friday, June 26, 2009

PNAS Study on How New Experiences Trigger Changes in Brain

The early content of the PNAS has this interesting study of how new experiences trigger changes in the brains of the zebra finch. Here is the abstract:

New experiences can trigger changes in gene expression in the brain. To understand this phenomenon better, we studied zebra finches hearing playbacks of birdsong. Earlier research had shown that initial playbacks of a novel song transiently increase the ZENK (ZIF-268, EGR1, NGFIA, KROX-24) mRNA in the auditory forebrain, but the response selectively habituates after repetition of the stimulus. Here, using DNA microarray analysis, we show that novel song exposure induces rapid changes in thousands of RNAs, with even more RNAs decreasing than increasing. Habituation training leads to the emergence of a different gene expression profile a day later, accompanied by loss of essentially all of the rapid “novel” molecular responses. The novel molecular profile is characterized by increases in genes involved in transcription and RNA processing and decreases in ion channels and putative noncoding RNAs. The “habituated” profile is dominated by changes in genes for mitochondrial proteins. A parallel proteomic analysis [2-dimensional difference gel electrophoresis (2D-DIGE) and sequencing by mass spectrometry] also detected changes in mitochondrial proteins, and direct enzyme assay demonstrated changes in both complexes I and IV in the habituated state. Thus a natural experience, in this case hearing the sound of birdsong, can lead to major shifts in energetics and macromolecular metabolism in higher centers in the brain.

And a brief excerpt from the EurekaAlert! notice:

The new experiments uncovered three distinct profiles of gene expression in the brain. One is typical of a bird sitting alone in silence. A second profile appears quickly just after a bird hears a recorded song – but only if the song is new to the bird. A third profile then emerges 24 hours later, after the song has become familiar.

"I can tell you whether the bird has heard a particular song before or not just by looking at the molecular assay," Clayton said.
In the study, each bird was kept in quiet isolation overnight before it heard a recording of a new song. The recording was then repeated every 10 seconds for up to three hours.

"The most important thing in its whole life is the sound of another bird of its species singing," Clayton said.

"And what we found is that 24 hours after the experience its brain is still trying to make sense of what it heard."