Knockdown of FoxP2 in Area X of adult male zebra finches with focus on the social context of directed and undirected singing.   (Project A)

Judith Rautenkranz, Diploma Student

Since FoxP2 became known as an important gene involved in speech and language in human research focuses on its evolutionary and ontogenetic role in several species. Vocal learners (like human or zebra finch) are able to learn new, species like sounds by imitating conspecifics. Like humans songbirds learn their songs best during sensitive periods. Zebra finches are so called closed-ended learners: ca.90 days after hatching their songs become crystallized – they aren´t able to learn new song motifs any longer.

Nevertheless, also adult male zebra finches can vary their songs slightly depending on the social context. Faced by a female, adult male zebra finches start to sing "directedly": At least in the first minutes of a new contact they tend to produce more introductory notes and sing their songs faster. These songs can be joined by different mating gestures ("courtship-dance" etc.). While being on their own they begin to sing "undirectedly" after some time of habituation.

This kind of social context dependent singing behaviour is supposed to be regulated by the anterior forebrain pathway (AFP), e. g. containing "Area X" = one of max. seven song nuclei in the brain of birds. Only during undirected singing FoxP2 seems to be downregulated in Area X.

Knockdown of FoxP2 in Area X in adult male zebra finches might prevent them from singing typical directed song features any longer when being in contact with a female.

For my knockdowns I use a lentiviral mediated RNAi proceedure.

Side-project B: Building up a new recording box-system

For my experiments I need to record many finches regularly. To expand the available set of recording boxes I have built up 12 new boxes and will equip them with new technical features (cameras, loudspeakers, etc.).

I´m keen to provide more enrichment possibilities for my finches during the recordings: All new boxes can be arranged with different activity increasing, natural wooden "toys". All already existing boxes were also equipped with a rocking, natural wooden branch-system, which allows cleaning as well as directed recordings in an appropriate way.

Every box contains a jitter-free, daylight-spectral illumination now.

For my directed recordings I have created a new box system for attaching the females to the male recording cages easily.

Side-project C: Establishing isoflurane-anesthesia

I aim to introduce isoflurane-anesthesia for surgeries in cooperation with the bird clinic of the Free University of Berlin and Marla Lichtenberger (Emergency Clinic For Animals, WI/USA). Isoflurane-anesthesia implies an appropriate multimodulate analgesia procedure since isoflurane has no analgetic effects. Isoflurane-inhalation and analgetica enable anesthesia to be regulated more individually and as a consequence will reduce the number of birds dying because of anesthesia overdosing (problem of injection anesthesia, e. g. with ketamin xylacin).