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Testosterone Mediates Seasonal Growth of the Song Control Nuclei in a Tropical Bird.

  • Small, Thomas W1
  • Brenowitz, Eliot A
  • Wojtenek, Winfried
  • Moore, Ignacio T
  • 1 Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va., USA.
Published Article
Brain, behavior and evolution
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2015
DOI: 10.1159/000437412
PMID: 26346733


In mid- to high-latitude songbirds, seasonal reproduction is stimulated by increasing day length accompanied by elevated plasma sex steroid levels, increased singing, and growth of the song control nuclei (SCN). Plasticity of the SCN and song behavior are primarily mediated by testosterone (T) and its metabolites in most species studied thus far. However, the majority of bird species are tropical and have less pronounced seasonal reproductive cycles. We have previously documented that equatorial rufous-collared sparrows (Zonotrichia capensis) exhibit seasonal neuroplasticity in the SCN. Manipulating T in these birds, however, did not alter singing behavior. In the current study, we investigated whether T mediates plasticity of the SCN in a similar manner to temperate songbirds. In the first experiment, we treated captive male birds with T or blank implants during the nonbreeding season. In a second experiment, we treated captive male birds with either blank implants, T-filled implants, T with flutamide (FLU; an androgen receptor antagonist) or T with FLU and 1,4,6-androstatriene-3,17-dione (ATD; an estrogen synthesis inhibitor) during the breeding season. In both experiments, the volumes of the brain areas high vocal center (HVC), Area X, and robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA) were measured along with singing behavior. In summary, T stimulated growth of HVC and RA, and the combined effect of FLU and ATD reversed this effect in HVC. Area X was not affected by T treatment in either experiment. Neither T-treated birds nor controls sang in captivity during either experiment. Together, these data indicate that T mediates seasonal changes in the HVC and RA of both tropical and higher- latitude bird species even if the environmental signals differ. However, unlike most higher-latitude songbirds, we found no evidence that motivation to sing or growth of Area X are stimulated by T under captive conditions.

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