Article

The genome of a songbird.

The Genome Center, Washington University School of Medicine, Campus Box 8501, 4444 Forest Park Avenue, St Louis, Missouri 63108, USA.
Nature (Impact Factor: 42.35). 04/2010; 464(7289):757-62. DOI: 10.1038/nature08819
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The zebra finch is an important model organism in several fields with unique relevance to human neuroscience. Like other songbirds, the zebra finch communicates through learned vocalizations, an ability otherwise documented only in humans and a few other animals and lacking in the chicken-the only bird with a sequenced genome until now. Here we present a structural, functional and comparative analysis of the genome sequence of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), which is a songbird belonging to the large avian order Passeriformes. We find that the overall structures of the genomes are similar in zebra finch and chicken, but they differ in many intrachromosomal rearrangements, lineage-specific gene family expansions, the number of long-terminal-repeat-based retrotransposons, and mechanisms of sex chromosome dosage compensation. We show that song behaviour engages gene regulatory networks in the zebra finch brain, altering the expression of long non-coding RNAs, microRNAs, transcription factors and their targets. We also show evidence for rapid molecular evolution in the songbird lineage of genes that are regulated during song experience. These results indicate an active involvement of the genome in neural processes underlying vocal communication and identify potential genetic substrates for the evolution and regulation of this behaviour.

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    ABSTRACT: Background While the song of all songbirds is controlled by the same neural circuit, the hormone dependence of singing behavior varies greatly between species. For this reason, songbirds are ideal organisms to study ultimate and proximate mechanisms of hormone-dependent behavior and neuronal plasticity.ResultsWe present the high quality assembly and annotation of a female 1.2-Gbp canary genome. Whole genome alignments between the canary and 13 genomes throughout the bird taxa show a much-conserved synteny, whereas at the single-base resolution there are considerable species differences. These differences impact small sequence motifs like transcription factor binding sites such as estrogen response elements and androgen response elements. To relate these species-specific response elements to the hormone-sensitivity of the canary singing behavior, we identify seasonal testosterone-sensitive transcriptomes of major song related brain regions, HVC and RA, and find the seasonal gene networks related to neuronal differentiation only in the HVC. Testosterone-sensitive up-regulated gene networks of HVC of singing males concerned neuronal differentiation. Among the testosterone-regulated genes of canary HVC, 20% lack estrogen response elements and 4-8% lack androgen response elements in orthologous promoters in the zebra finch.Conclusion The canary genome sequence and complementary expression analysis reveal intra-regional evolutionary changes in a multi-regional neural circuit controlling seasonal singing behavior and identify gene evolution related to the hormone-sensitivity of this seasonal singing behavior. Such genes that are testosterone- and estrogen-sensitive specifically in the canary and that are involved in rewiring of neurons might be crucial for seasonal re-differentiation of HVC underlying seasonal song patterning.

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