A postdoctoral position is now available in the Riters lab. Research is aimed at understanding the role of opioid neuropeptides and reward neural pathways in different forms of communication in a songbird system. Studies will involve behavioral observations, quantitative real time PCR, protein measures, hormone manipulations and assays, and site-specific pharmacological manipulations. Applicants must have a PhD (or be near completion of the PhD) in biology, psychology, neuroscience or a related field. The position is available immediately, and applications will be considered until the position is filled. Funding for this position is available through an NIH grant and is available for at least two years. Interested applicants should email Lauren Riters at LVRiters@wisc.edu.
The primary focus of research in my laboratory is on the neural regulation of vocal communication in songbirds. We are interested in
We are particularly interested in how the brainís natural motivation and reward systems (the same systems implicated in feeding, sexual behavior, and drug abuse in humans) also participate in song production and female responses to male song.
- how the brain ensures that communication takes place within an appropriate context in response to appropriate social stimuli,
- how the brain regulates motivation or reward associated with communication, and
- how the brain regulates selective behavioral responses to communication signals.
Songbirds and other vertebrates often vocalize at high rates, suggesting that they are highly motivated to do so and that vocal behavior may be rewarding. To communicate successfully an individual must adjust vocal communication to match a specific social context. For example, if a male songbird is singing to attract a female, he must sing the type of song appropriate within the context of courtship. We have found that distinct neural mechanisms are active during song used to attract mates versus song used in other contexts. Currently we are examining how brain regions involved in song production interact with brain regions implicated in motivation and reward to regulate socially-appropriate song. I am particularly interested in the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine and opioid neuropeptides in context appropriate song. To date we have evidence that dopamine may play a critical role in the motivation to sing and that opioids may be important for reward associated with song production.
Ultimately communication is successful only to the extent that it induces an appropriate response from a suitable target. Another major line of research in my laboratory is on how the brain of the receiver of a social signal regulates selective responses to vocal signals. Currently, we are examining involvement of the catecholamines, norepinephrine and dopamine in the regulation of selective female responses to male songs.
My research integrates semi-natural behavioral observations of aviary housed birds with neuroscience laboratory techniques. Analytical tools include immunocytochemistry, site-directed and systemic pharmacological manipulations, lesioning techniques, neuroanatomical tract tracing, hormone assays,
and quantitative real time PCR. Current species in the laboratory include European starlings, zebra finches, and house sparrows.
In addition to the main areas of research described above, in collaboration with Dr. Walter Piper at Chapman University it may be possible for students in my laboratory to pursue projects related to vocal communication and territory acquisition, territorial defense, and other social behaviors in loons, a non-songbird species residing on lakes in northern Wisconsin. Information related to this research can be found at http://loonproject.org/
- Zoology 101 - Animal Biology
- Zoology 603 - Endocrinology
- Zoology 962/Neurosci 675 - Graduate Seminar in Ethology: Behavior,
Brain, and Evolution
Note to prospective graduate students:
I welcome motivated graduate students with diverse interests
in animal behavior or behavioral neuroscience related
to animal communication and other social behaviors.
Graduate students currently supervised:
- Melissa Cordes, Melissa is interested in understanding links between social status and vocal communication. Her current studies focus on the involvement of androgen receptors and opioids in the dramatic increases in singing behavior observed in male starlings that become socially dominant.
Students supervised who recently earned graduate degrees:
- Cindi A. Kelm-Nelson (PhD 2012)
- Benjamin A. Pawlisch (PhD 2012)
- Sarah Jane Alger (PhD 2010)
- Sarah Ann Heimovics (PhD 2008)
- Kelm-Nelson, C. A., Stevenson, S. A., Cordes, M. A., and Riters, L. V. (in press). Modulation of male song by naloxone in the medial preoptic nucleus. Behavioral Neuroscience.
- Ellis, J. M. S. and Riters, L.V. (in press). Patterns of phosphorylated tyrosine hydroxylase vary with song production in female starlings. Brain Research.
- Pawlisch, B. A., Kelm-Nelson, C. A., Stevenson, S. A., and Riters, L.V. (2012). Behavioral indices of breeding readiness in female European starlings correlate with immunolabeling for catecholamine markers in brain areas involved in sexual motivation. General and Comparative Endocrinology. 179(3), 359-368.
- Kelm-Nelson, C. A., Stevenson, S. A., Riters, L. V. (2012). Context-dependent links between song production and opioid-mediated analgesia in male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). PLoS One. 7(10).
- Ellis, J. M. S. and Riters, L. V. (2012). Patterns of FOS protein induction in singing female starlings. Behavioural Brain Research. 237, 148-156.
- Riters, L.V. and Stevenson, S.A. (2012). The Role of Reward in Vocal Production: Song-associated Place Preference in Songbirds. Physiology & Behavior. 106(2):87-94.
- Ellis, J. M. S. and Riters, L. V. (2012). Vocal parameters that indicate threat level correlate with FOS immunolabeling in social and vocal control brain regions. Brain, Behavior and Evolution. 79(2),128-140.
- Heimovics, S. A., Salvante, K. G., Sockman, K.W., Riters, L.V. (2011). Individual differences in the motivation to communicate relate to levels of midbrain and striatal catecholamines and related markers in male European starlings. Hormones and Behavior. 60(5), 529-539.
- Alger, S. J., Juang, C., Riters, L. V. (2011). Social affiliation relates to tyrosine hydroxylase immunolabeling in male and female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy. 42(1), 45-55.
- Pawlisch, B. A., Stevenson, S.A., and Riters, L. V. (2011). Alpha 1-noradrenergic receptor antagonism disrupts female songbird responses to male song. Neuroscience Letters. 496(1), 20 -24.
- Heimovics, S. A., Cornil, C. A., Ellis, J. M. S., Ball, G. F. and Riters, L. V. (2011). Seasonal and individual variation in singing behavior correlates with alpha 2-noradrenergic receptor density in brain regions implicated in song, sexual, and social behavior. Neuroscience. 182, 133-143.
- Kelm, C. A. Forbes-Lorman, R. M., Auger, C. J., Riters, L. V. (2010). Mu-opioid receptor densities are depleted in regions implicated in agonistic and sexual behavior in male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) defending nest sites and courting females. Behavioural Brain Research. 219(1), 15-22.
- Pawlisch, B. A. and Riters, L.V. (2010). Selective behavioral responses to male song are affected by the dopamine agonist GBR-12909 in female European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Brain Research. 1353, 113-124.
- Heimovics, S. A., Cornil, C. A., Ball, G. F., and Riters, L. V. (2009). D1-like dopamine receptor density in nuclei involved in social behavior correlates with song in a context-dependent fashion in male European starlings. Neuroscience. 159(3), 962-973.
- Alger, S. J., Maasch, S. N., and Riters. L. V. (2009). Lesions to the medial preoptic nucleus affect immediate early gene immunolabeling in brain regions involved in song control and social behavior in male European starlings. European Journal of Neuroscience, 29(5), 970-982.
- Heimovics, S. A. and Riters, L. V. (2008). Evidence that dopamine within motivation and song control brain regions regulates birdsong context-dependently. Physiology and Behavior, 95, 258-266.
Reviews and Invited Chapters
- Riters, L. V. (2012). Invited review: The role of motivation and reward neural systems in vocal communication in songbirds. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology. 33, 194-209.
- Riters, L. V. (2011). Pleasure seeking and birdsong. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. Special Issue: Proceedings from the Festschrift for Dr. Jaak Panksepp: A celebration of pioneering research in affective neuroscience. 35, 1837-1845.
- Riters, L.V. and Alger, S.J. (2011). Hormonal regulation of avian courtship and mating behaviors. In: Hormones and Reproduction of Vertebrates (vol. 4), David O. Norris and Kristin H. Lopez (eds), Academic Press, San Diego, CA.
- Riters, L. V. (2010). Evidence for opioid involvement in the motivation to sing. Invited review, special issue on the Chemical Neuroanatomy of Birdsong. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy. 39(2), 141-150. [Epub 2009].
- Ball, G.F., Riters, L.V., MacDougall-Shackleton, S. A., and Balthazart, J. (2008). Sex Differences in Brain and Behavior and the Neuroendocrine Control of the Motivation to Sing. In: The Neuroscience of Birdsong, H.P. Zeigler and P.R. Marler (eds) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. pp. 320-331.