Birdsong and reward: neuroendocrine regulation of the motivation to communicate

Songbirds are well known for singing at high rates within multiple distinct social contexts. This suggests that they are highly motivated to communicate and raises the possibility that the consequences of vocal production are rewarding (or alternatively that reward can facilitate vocal production). Until recently, little was known about the neural regulation of the motivation to communicate or the role of reward neural systems in vocal production.  Across vertebrates, dopamine and opioid neuropeptides underlie reward seeking and sensory pleasure associated with multiple behaviors.  In songbirds, dopamine and opioids are found in brain regions implicated in motivation, reward, and singing behavior, including the medial preoptic nucleus (POM).  Several lines of research indicate that dopamine and opioids in the POM play roles in birdsong that differ depending upon whether song is produced spontaneously in affiliative flocks (a type of song that can be considered socially-motivated) or used to attract mates (sexually-motivated song). Studies from my lab using qPCR, immunolabeling, autoradiography, HPLC, site-directed pharmacological manipulations, and behavioral tests of song and reward in male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) support the hypotheses that 1) distinct patterns of dopamine and opioid activity in the POM influence the motivation to produce socially- and sexually-motivated song, that 2) socially-motivated communication is facilitated and maintained by intrinsic reward induced by immediate release of opioids, and that 3) sexually-motivated communication is externally rewarded by opioids released upon successful mate attraction.

Speaker: Dr. Lauren Riters

Speaker Institution: Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin Madison

Event Date: 01-27-2015

Event Start Time: 4:00 PM

Event Location: Anatomy/Zoology Building W118

Mixer Time: 3:30 PM

Mixer Location: Anatomy/Zoology Building E112