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Nucleus Taenia of the Amygdala of Birds: Anatomical and Functional Studies in Ring Doves (Streptopelia risoria) and European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)

Cheng M.-F. · Chaiken M. · Zuo M. · Miller H.
Department of Psychology, Biopsychology Program, Newark, N.J., USA Brain Behav Evol 1999;53:243–270 (DOI:10.1159/000006597)


Nucleus taenia (Tn) in birds is a discrete component of a loosely defined archistriatal structure, the posterior and medial archistriatum. By virtue of its hypothalamic projections, the posterior and medial archistriatum is thought to be an avian homolog of the amygdala in mammals. A recent fluorogold (FG) study of avian hippocampus revealed backfilled labels in nucleus Tn, suggesting that this nucleus may indeed be the homolog of mammalian amygdala. In the present study, we sought to characterize nucleus Tn in terms of its connections and function. We used the anterograde tracers Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin (PHAL) and biotinylated dextran amine (BDA) to map the efferent projections of Tn. The retrograde tracers FG and BDA were used to corroborate the efferent projections and to explore the pattern of afferent inputs to Tn. Finally, we explored the role of Tn in social behavior by observing behavioral changes associated with electrolytic lesions to Tn. The subjects of our studies were ring doves and European starlings, representing two avian orders. When a deposit of anterograde tracer was centered in Tn, it revealed projections to the hypothalamus, following the course of the hypothalamic-occipitomesencephalic tract previously reported in pigeons. The projections were bilateral in ring doves and ipsilateral in starlings. The BDA injections in the archistratum intermedium, lateral to Tn, did not yield the same projectional pattern. Together with corroborative data from FG retrograde experiments, these findings suggest that Tn is probably the primary origin of the hypothalamic projection. A robust projection to the hyperstriatal region was present along the lateral wall of the lateral ventricle, continuing into the anteroventral pole of the ventricle. Highly arborized terminal fields were found all along this pathway, notably in the medial parolfactory lobe (corresponding to the basal ganglia) and along the dorsal roof of the rostral hyperstriatum ventrale just ventral to the laminal frontalis superior (in ring doves) and the lamina frontalis suprema (in starlings). Projections to the hippocampal complex were mostly restricted to the parahippocampus. The FG data suggest the presence of afferent projections from the ovoidais shell and nucleus subrotundus region, the hippocampal complex in both species, and high vocal nucleus in starlings. Behavioral effects of Tn lesions suggest that nucleus taenia is involved in the control of social behavior through its influence on the affective state. Nucleus taenia thus exhibits many of the structural and functional features of the amygdaloid complex in mammals – that is, subcortical sensory inputs, hippocampal complex connections, and a functional role in adaptive patterns of social behavior.


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