Mutations of the transcription factor FOXP2 cause a severe speech and language disorder. In songbirds, FoxP2 is expressed in the medium spiny neurons (MSNs) of the avian basal ganglia song nucleus, Area X, which is crucial for song learning and adult song performance. Experimental downregulation of FoxP2 in Area X affects spine formation, prevents neuronal plasticity induced by social context and impairs song learning. Direct target genes of FoxP2 relevant for song learning and song production are unknown. Here we show that a lentivirally mediated FoxP2 knockdown in Area X of zebra finches downregulates the expression of VLDLR, one of the two reelin receptors. Zebra finch FoxP2 binds to the promoter of VLDLR and activates it, establishing VLDLR as a direct FoxP2 target. Consistent with these findings, VLDLR expression is co-regulated with FoxP2 as a consequence of adult singing and during song learning. We also demonstrate that knockdown of FoxP2 affects glutamatergic transmission at the corticostriatal MSN synapse. These data raise the possibility that the regulatory relationship between FoxP2 and VLDLR guides structural plasticity towards the subset of FoxP2-positive MSNs in an activity dependent manner via the reelin pathway.
- Gene regulation
- Synaptic transmission