Social behaviors that impact human health, including risk-taking, aggression, and parental care, have a neuroendocrine basis that is both biologically based and well conserved across vertebrates. Animal models, particularly those in which definitive neuroendocrine and genetic links to social behavior have been described, are therefore valuable systems in which to study the hormones and genes that influence human social behavior. Ideally, such models would be easily studied in their natural habitats, reasonably similar to humans in their social behavior, genetically tractable, and inexpensive to work with. We have been studying the neuroendocrine and genetic bases of social behavior in an exceptionally promising model, the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). This songbird, which is native to North America, has generated a great deal of interest among behavioral biologists because of a plumage polymorphism that predicts many aspects of an individual's social behavior. Dozens of behavioral studies conducted in the animals'natural habitat have established that individuals with a white-stripe (WS) on the crown are more competitive and aggressive, and birds with a tan stripe (TS) engage in more parental care. The color polymorphism is associated with a structural rearrangement on chromosome 2;all of the WS individuals have a copy of the rearranged chromosome (2m), whereas those of the TS morph are homozygous for the wild-type chromosome. We are currently mapping the 2m chromosome and have identified a set of promising neuroendocrine genes that are located within the rearrangement and may therefore contribute toward the behavioral phenotype and thus to risk-taking, aggression, and parenting. These genes, which include a gonadal steroid receptor, a steroidogenic enzyme, and a serotonin receptor subtype, are already suspected to play a role in social behavior in vertebrates, including humans. Here, we propose to evaluate these genes by identifying those (1) whose expression mirrors the behavioral polymorphism;(2) that may have organizational effects on the development of polymorphic behavior;and (3) that have been directly altered by the chromosomal arrangement in ways that may alter gene expression or function. Overall, the white-throated sparrow represents a unique and valuable opportunity for studies of the biological bases of social behavior because the behavioral differences between the morphs are already well-documented in free-living and laboratory populations, and the chromosomal inversion has been definitively linked to the behavioral polymorphism. Because the genes and pathways that regulate social behavior are conserved across species, the results of these studies will be applicable to understanding the mechanisms underlying aggressive and parental behavior in humans.

Public Health Relevance

Social behaviors that impact human health, including competitive aggression and parental care, are in part influenced by hormones and gene expression. Here, we will study these influences in an animal model with a natural polymorphism that provides a unique opportunity to characterize the processes underlying aggression and parenting.

Agency
National Institute of Health (NIH)
Institute
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Type
Research Project (R01)
Project #
5R01MH082833-03
Application #
8213453
Study Section
Neuroendocrinology, Neuroimmunology, and Behavior Study Section (NNB)
Program Officer
Beckel-Mitchener, Andrea C
Project Start
2010-04-15
Project End
2014-01-31
Budget Start
2012-02-01
Budget End
2013-01-31
Support Year
3
Fiscal Year
2012
Total Cost
$383,625
Indirect Cost
$136,125
Name
Emory University
Department
Psychology
Type
Schools of Arts and Sciences
DUNS #
066469933
City
Atlanta
State
GA
Country
United States
Zip Code
30322
Zinzow-Kramer, Wendy M; Horton, Brent M; Maney, Donna L (2014) Evaluation of reference genes for quantitative real-time PCR in the brain, pituitary, and gonads of songbirds. Horm Behav 66:267-75
Horton, Brent M; Hudson, William H; Ortlund, Eric A et al. (2014) Estrogen receptor ? polymorphism in a species with alternative behavioral phenotypes. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111:1443-8
Grozhik, Anya V; Horoszko, Christopher P; Horton, Brent M et al. (2014) Hormonal regulation of vasotocin receptor mRNA in a seasonally breeding songbird. Horm Behav 65:254-63
Horton, Brent M; Moore, Ignacio T; Maney, Donna L (2014) New insights into the hormonal and behavioural correlates of polymorphism in white-throated sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis. Anim Behav 93:207-219
Horton, Brent M; Hu, Yuchen; Martin, Christa L et al. (2013) Behavioral characterization of a white-throated sparrow homozygous for the ZAL2(m) chromosomal rearrangement. Behav Genet 43:60-70
Maney, Donna L; Goodson, James L (2011) Neurogenomic mechanisms of aggression in songbirds. Adv Genet 75:83-119