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Wild sparrow study traces social behaviors in the field to specific gene

estosterone levels are equal, the white-striped males still sing more than the tan-striped males. This finding led us to suspect that brain sensitivity to hormones differs between the morphs. ER-alpha has a hormone receptor that makes the brain sensitive to testosterone, so it makes sense that the white-striped birds have higher levels."

The researchers hypothesize that the mechanism they have identified may have played a major role in behavioral evolution.

"Humans also show variation in aggression and parenting," Horton says, "but we know little about what contributes to this variation and how our behavior can in turn affect our brains. This bird gives us important clues about what to look for as we try to understand the complex interplay between genes, proteins and our own social behaviors."

The ER-alpha findings conclude the first phase of the work. The research team is also investigating a suite of other neuroendocrine genes captured by the chromosome rearrangement that are thought to be important players in the regulation of social behavior.

Contact: Beverly Clark
Emory Health Sciences

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