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A bird's eye view of the hippocampus beyond space: Behavioral, neuroanatomical, and neuroendocrine perspectives

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Tom SmuldersORCiD


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Although the hippocampus is one of the most-studied brain regions in mammals, research on the avian hippocampushas been more limited in scope. It is generally agreed that the hippocampus is an ancient feature of theamniote brain, and therefore homologous between the two lineages. Because birds and mammals are evolutionarilynot very closely related, any shared anatomy is likely to be crucial for shared functions of theirhippocampi. These functions, in turn, are likely to be essential if they have been conserved for over 300 millionyears. Therefore, research on the avian hippocampus can help us understand how this brain region evolved andhow it has changed over evolutionary time. Further, there is a strong research foundation in birds onhippocampal-supported behaviors such as spatial navigation, food caching, and brood parasitism that scientistscan build upon to better understand how hippocampal anatomy, network circuitry, endocrinology, and physiologycan help control these behaviors. In this review, we summarize our current understanding of the avianhippocampus in spatial cognition as well as in regulating anxiety, approach-avoidance behavior, and stress responses.Although there are still some questions about the exact number of subdivisions in the avian hippocampusand how that might vary in different avian families, there is intriguing evidence that the avianhippocampus might have complementary functional profiles along the rostral-caudal axis similar to the dorsalventralaxis of the rodent hippocampus, where the rostral/dorsal hippocampus is more involved in cognitiveprocesses like spatial learning and the caudal/ventral hippocampus regulates emotional states, anxiety, and thestress response. Future research should focus on elucidating the cellular and molecular mechanisms – includingendocrinological - in the avian hippocampus that underlie behaviors such as spatial navigation, spatial memory,and anxiety-related behaviors, and in so doing, resolve outstanding questions about avian hippocampal functionand organization.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Madison FA, Bingman VP, Smulders TV, Lattin CR

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Hormones and Behavior

Year: 2024

Volume: 157

Print publication date: 01/01/2024

Online publication date: 16/11/2023

Acceptance date: 05/11/2023

ISSN (print): 0018-506X

ISSN (electronic): 1095-6867


DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2023.105451