Distribution of iron in the parrot brain: Conserved (pallidal) and derived (nigral) labeling patterns

Todd F. Roberts, Steven E. Brauth, William S. Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The distribution of iron in the brain of a vocal learning parrot, the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), was examined using iron histochemistry. In mammals, iron is a highly specific stain for the dorsal and ventral pallidal subdivision as well as specific cell groups in the brainstem, including the substantia nigra pars reticulata [Neuroscience 11 (1984) 595-603]. The purpose of this study was to compare the distribution of iron in the mammalian and avian brain focusing on pallidal and nigral cell groups. The results show that in the avian brain, iron stains oligodendrocytes, neurons and the neuropil. Cell staining changes dramatically along the rostrocaudal axis, with neuronal labeling confined to regions caudal to the thalamus and oligodendrocyte labeling denser in regions rostral to the dorsal thalamus. Many sensory forebrain regions contain appreciable iron labeling, including telencephalic vocal control nuclei. The dorsal and ventral subdivision of the avian pallidum, along with the basal ganglia component of the vocal control circuit, the magnicellular nucleus of the lobus parolfactorius, stain heavily for iron. Several brainstem regions, including nucleus rotundus, the medial spiriform nucleus (SpM), the principle nucleus of the trigeminal nerve, nucleus laminaris and scattered cell groups throughout the isthmus and pontine reticular formation stain intensely for iron. Within SpM neuronal labeling is more intense in the medial division while oligodendrocyte labeling is more intense in the lateral division surprisingly no nigral iron staining was observed. Our results imply that iron is a conserved marker for the pallidum in birds and mammals, but that patterns of nigral staining have diverged in birds and mammals. Differences in iron staining patterns between birds and mammals may also reflect the relatively greater importance of the collothalamic visual pathways, pretectal-cerebellar pathways and specialized vocal learning circuitry in avian sensory and motor processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)138-149
Number of pages12
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Dec 7 2001


  • Bird
  • Budgerigar
  • Cerebellum
  • Pretectum
  • Substantia nigra
  • Ventral pallidum
  • Vocal control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Distribution of iron in the parrot brain: Conserved (pallidal) and derived (nigral) labeling patterns'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this