• songbird;
  • immediate early gene;
  • zenk;
  • NCM;
  • auditory perception;
  • CB1 cannabinoid receptor


A notable consequence of CB1 cannabinoid receptor activation in vertebrates is an impairment of cognitive function related to learning and short-term memory. The mechanisms of this impairment remain unclear, but one possibility is that cannabinoids influence encoding of stimuli at sensory and/or perceptual levels. Here, by treating zebra finches with the cannabinoid agonist WIN55212-2 and then measuring expression of the transcription factor zenk following presentation of novel zebra finch song, we show that cannabinoid receptor activation differentially influences zenk expression in sensory versus perceptual regions of the songbird auditory telencephalon. That is, WIN55212-2 dose-dependently inhibited zenk expression in a region for auditory perception (NCM, the caudomedial neostriatum), but had no effect on zenk expression in the primary auditory area, the Field L complex. The inhibitory effects of WIN55212-2 on zenk expression in NCM were reversed by coadministration of the CB1-selective antagonist SR141716A. Moreover, we found that the habituation of the NCM zenk response to repeated presentation of the same song, a well-established neural correlate of song recognition, was blocked when birds were treated with WIN55212-2 during habituation trials. Our data suggest that activation of CB1 cannabinoid receptors can selectively influence perceptual and mnemonic aspects of auditory experience. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Neurobiol 56: 266–274, 2003