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Visual asymmetries and the ascending thalamofugal pathway in pigeons

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The lateralized visual systems of pigeons and chickens are excellent models to study neural asymmetries at the functional and anatomical level. The aim of the current study was to reveal why these two species closely resemble each other with respect to left–right differences in behavior but not with respect to the pathways involved: While pigeons show an asymmetrically organized tectofugal system, only transient lateralizations of the thalamofugal system have been observed in chickens. Four possible explanations are conceivable. (1) Adult pigeons might also show a hitherto undiscovered thalamofugal asymmetry like chickens. (2) The thalamofugal asymmetry might be transient in both species. (3) Prehatch light stimulation could differentially affect the two visual pathways of chickens and pigeons that mature with different speeds. (4) Tecto- and thalamofugal asymmetries represent species differences, independent of developmental factors. To test these explanations, we injected retrograde tracers into the Wulst of adult pigeons, of hatchlings, and of dark reared pigeons which were monocularly deprived on their left or right eye for one week after hatch. Subsequently we counted labeled cells within the ipsi- and contralateral n. geniculatus lateralis pars dorsalis in search for possible lateralizations of ascending pathways. None of the experimental groups displayed significant differences in the thalamofugal projection pattern. This indicates that visual lateralization in pigeons and chickens depends on tectofugal and thalamofugal asymmetries, respectively. Thus, in different species a highly similar pattern of behavioral asymmetries can be subserved by diverse neural systems.

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We thank Arianne Schwarz for her help with immunohistochemical staining and Josine Verhaal as well as Sabine Kesch for their help with animal breeding. This research was supported by a DFG grant from the German Science Foundation DFG to M.M. and to O.G. (SFB 874).

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Correspondence to Felix Ströckens.

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F. Ströckens and N. Freund contributed equally to this work.

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Ströckens, F., Freund, N., Manns, M. et al. Visual asymmetries and the ascending thalamofugal pathway in pigeons. Brain Struct Funct 218, 1197–1209 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-012-0454-x

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  • Visual system
  • Tract tracing
  • Monocular deprivation
  • Lateral geniculate nucleus
  • Lateralization