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Keywords:

  • markers of neurogenesis;
  • doublecortin;
  • bromodeoxyuridine;
  • HVC;
  • thymidine analogs;
  • neuronal plasticity

ABSTRACT

Although the existence of newborn neurons had originally been suggested, but not broadly accepted, based on studies in adult rodent brains, the presence of an active neurogenesis process in adult homoeothermic vertebrates was first firmly established in songbirds. Adult neurogenesis was initially studied with the tritiated thymidine technique, later replaced by the injection and detection of the marker of DNA replication 5-bromo-2′-deoxyuridine (BrdU). More recently, various endogenous markers were used to identify young neurons or cycling neuronal progenitors. We review here the respective advantages and pitfalls of these different approaches in birds, with specific reference to the microtubule-associated protein, doublecortin (DCX), that has been extensively used to identify young newly born neurons in adult brains. All these techniques of course have limitations. Exogenous markers label cells replicating their DNA only during a brief period and it is difficult to select injection doses that would exhaustively label all these cells without inducing DNA damage that will also result in some form of labeling during repair. On the other hand, specificity of endogenous markers is difficult to establish due to problems related to the specificity of antibodies (these problems can be, but are not always, addressed) and more importantly because it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove that a given marker exhaustively and specifically labels a given cell population. Despite these potential limitations, these endogenous markers and DCX staining in particular clearly represent a useful approach to the detailed study of neurogenesis especially when combined with other techniques such as BrdU. J. Comp. Neurol. 522:4100–4120, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.