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Abstract

Dopamine is a key neuromodulatory transmitter in the brain. It acts through dopamine receptors to affect changes in neural activity, gene expression, and behavior. In songbirds, dopamine is released into the striatal song nucleus area X, and the levels depend on social contexts of undirected and directed singing. This differential release is associated with differential expression of activity-dependent genes, such as egr1 (avian zenk), which in mammalian brain are modulated by dopamine receptors. Here we cloned from zebra finch brain cDNAs of all avian dopamine receptors: the D1 (D1A, D1B, D1D) and D2 (D2, D3, D4) families. Comparative sequence analyses of predicted proteins revealed expected phylogenetic relationships, in which the D1 family exists as single exon and the D2 family exists as spliced exon genes. In both zebra finch and chicken, the D1A, D1B, and D2 receptors were highly expressed in the striatum, the D1D and D3 throughout the pallium and within the mesopallium, respectively, and the D4 mainly in the cerebellum. Furthermore, within the zebra finch, all receptors, except for D4, showed differential expression in song nuclei relative to the surrounding regions and developmentally regulated expression that decreased for most receptors during the sensory acquisition and sensorimotor phases of song learning. Within area X, half of the cells expressed both D1A and D2 receptors, and a higher proportion of the D1A-only-containing neurons expressed egr1 during undirected but not during directed singing. Our findings are consistent with hypotheses that dopamine receptors may be involved in song development and social context-dependent behaviors. J. Comp. Neurol. 518:741–769, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.