During nesting behaviour in male and female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) the social behaviour network and mesolimbic reward circuit appear to be active1. The nonapeptides oxytocin and vasopressin play an important well established role in mammalian social behaviour including bonding and parental behaviour. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that during nesting, the active neuronal populations form part of the mesotocin-vasotocin and dopaminergic systems. We performed free-floating double immunohistochemistry on paraformaldehyde fixed brain tissue from nesting and non-nesting male and female zebra finches (n=8/group) for Fos (as a marker of neuronal activity) combined with arginine vasotocin or oxytocin or tyrosine hydroxylase respectively. We then quantified the number of double labelled cells in specific neuronal populations and correlated this with the variation in nesting behaviour.
Male zebra finches predominately nest build and Fos activation in the vasotocin neuronal populations, such as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BnST) positively correlated with the more material a nesting male finch picked up (p=0.02) and the more time a finch pair spent together in the nest (p=0.01). Fos activation in the BnST mesotocin neuronal populations was higher in nesting males and females compared to controls (p=0.05). In the dopaminergic neuronal population in the midbrain central gray, Fos positively correlated with the longer time the finch pair spent together in the nest (p=0.001). These findings provide evidence for a role of the mesotocin-vasotocin and dopaminergic systems in nest construction suggesting a conserved parental behavioural function for the nonapeptide social behaviour network. They also generate the interesting question of whether nest building with a partner is a rewarding behaviour for birds.
1Hall ZJ, Bertin M, Bailey IE, Meddle SL, Healy SD (2014) Neural correlates of nesting behavior in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Behav. Brain Res. 264:26-33
Research supported by the BBSRC