The Songbird Neurogenomics (SoNG) Initiative: Community-based tools and strategies for study of brain gene function and evolution
ABSTRACT Songbirds hold great promise for biomedical, environmental and evolutionary research. A complete draft sequence of the zebra finch genome is imminent, yet a need remains for application of genomic resources within a research community traditionally focused on ethology and neurobiological methods. In response, we developed a core set of genomic tools and a novel collaborative strategy to probe gene expression in diverse songbird species and natural contexts.
We end-sequenced cDNAs from zebra finch brain and incorporated additional sequences from community sources into a database of 86,784 high quality reads. These assembled into 31,658 non-redundant contigs and singletons, which we annotated via BLAST search of chicken and human databases. The results are publicly available in the ESTIMA:Songbird database. We produced a spotted cDNA microarray with 20,160 addresses representing 17,214 non-redundant products of an estimated 11,500-15,000 genes, validating it by analysis of immediate-early gene (zenk) gene activation following song exposure and by demonstrating effective cross hybridization to genomic DNAs of other songbird species in the Passerida Parvorder. Our assembly was also used in the design of the "Lund-zfa" Affymetrix array representing approximately 22,000 non-redundant sequences. When the two arrays were hybridized to cDNAs from the same set of male and female zebra finch brain samples, both arrays detected a common set of regulated transcripts with a Pearson correlation coefficient of 0.895. To stimulate use of these resources by the songbird research community and to maintain consistent technical standards, we devised a "Community Collaboration" mechanism whereby individual birdsong researchers develop experiments and provide tissues, but a single individual in the community is responsible for all RNA extractions, labelling and microarray hybridizations.
Immediately, these results set the foundation for a coordinated set of 25 planned experiments by 16 research groups probing fundamental links between genome, brain, evolution and behavior in songbirds. Energetic application of genomic resources to research using songbirds should help illuminate how complex neural and behavioral traits emerge and evolve.
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ABSTRACT: Natural experience can cause complex changes in gene expression in brain centers for cognition and perception, but the mechanisms that link perceptual experience and neurogenomic regulation are not understood. MicroRNAs (miRNAs or miRs) have the potential to regulate large gene expression networks, and a previous study showed that a natural perceptual stimulus (hearing the sound of birdsong in zebra finches) triggers rapid changes in expression of several miRs in the auditory forebrain. Here we evaluate the functional potential of one of these, miR-2954, which has been found so far only in birds and is encoded on the Z sex chromosome. Using fluorescence in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, we show that miR-2954 is present in subsets of cells in the sexually dimorphic brain regions involved in song production and perception, with notable enrichment in cell nuclei. We then probe its regulatory function by inhibiting its expression in a zebra finch cell line (G266) and measuring effects on endogenous gene expression using Illumina RNA sequencing (RNA-seq). Approximately 1000 different mRNAs change in expression by 1.5-fold or more (adjusted p < 0.01), with increases in some but not all of the targets that had been predicted by Targetscan. The population of RNAs that increase after miR-2954 inhibition is notably enriched for ones involved in the MAP Kinase (MAPK) pathway, whereas the decreasing population is dominated by genes involved in ribosomes and mitochondrial function. Since song stimulation itself triggers a decrease in miR-2954 expression followed by a delayed decrease in genes encoding ribosomal and mitochondrial functions, we suggest that miR-2954 may mediate some of the neurogenomic effects of song habituation.Frontiers in Neuroscience 12/2014; 8(409). DOI:10.3389/fnins.2014.00409
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ABSTRACT: Complex learned behavior is influenced throughout development by both genetic and environmental factors. Birdsong, like human speech, is a complex vocal behavior acquired through sensorimotor learning and is based on coordinated auditory input and vocal output to mimic tutor song. Song is primarily learned during a specific developmental stage called the critical period. Although auditory input is crucial for acquiring complex vocal patterns, its exact role in neural circuit maturation for vocal learning and production is not well understood. Using audition-deprived songbirds, we examined whether auditory experience affects developmental gene expression in the major elements of neural circuits that mediate vocal learning and production. Compared with intact zebra finches, early-deafened zebra finches showed excessively delayed vocal development, but their songs eventually crystallized. In contrast to the different rates of song development between the intact and deafened birds, developmental gene expression in the motor circuit is conserved in an age-dependent manner from the juvenile stage until the older adult stage, even in the deafened birds, which indicates the audition-independent robustness of gene expression dynamics during development. Furthermore, even after adult deafening, which degrades crystallized song, the deteriorated songs ultimately restabilized at the same point when the early-deafened birds stabilized their songs. These results indicate a genetic program-associated inevitable termination of vocal plasticity that results in audition-independent vocal crystallization. Copyright © 2015 the authors 0270-6474/15/350878-12$15.00/0.
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ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Songbirds (oscine Passeriformes) are among the most diverse and successful vertebrate groups, comprising almost half of all known bird species. Identifying the genomic innovations that might be associated with this success, as well as with characteristic songbird traits such as vocal learning and the brain circuits that underlie this behavior, has proven difficult, in part due to the small number of avian genomes available until recently. Here we performed a comparative analysis of 48 avian genomes to identify genomic features that are unique to songbirds, as well as an initial assessment of function by investigating their tissue distribution and predicted protein domain structure. RESULTS: Using BLAT alignments and gene synteny analysis, we curated a large set of Ensembl gene models that were annotated as novel or duplicated in the most commonly studied songbird, the Zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), and then extended this analysis to 47 additional avian and 4 non-avian genomes. We identified 10 novel genes uniquely present in songbird genomes. A refined map of chromosomal synteny disruptions in the Zebra finch genome revealed that the majority of these novel genes localized to regions of genomic instability associated with apparent chromosomal breakpoints. Analyses of in situ hybridization and RNA-seq data revealed that a subset of songbird-unique genes is expressed in the brain and/or other tissues, and that 2 of these (YTHDC2L1 and TMRA) are highly differentially expressed in vocal learning-associated nuclei relative to the rest of the brain. CONCLUSIONS: Our study reveals novel genes unique to songbirds, including some that may subserve their unique vocal control system, substantially improves the quality of Zebra finch genome annotations, and contributes to a better understanding of how genomic features may have evolved in conjunction with the emergence of the songbird lineage.BMC Genomics 12/2014; 15:1082. DOI:10.1186/1471-2164-15-1082 · 4.04 Impact Factor