Sexual differentiation of brain and behavior in birds

Jacques Balthazart, Gregory F. Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

94 Scopus citations


It is currently accepted that most sex differences in brain and behavior do not result from direct genomic actions, but develop following early exposure to a sexually differentiated endocrine milieu. In Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica), in contrast to rodents, the male reproductive phenotype appears to develop in the absence of endocrine influence, and estradiol secreted by the ovary of the female embryo is responsible for the physiologic demasculinization of females. In zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), estrogens administered early in life demasculinize copulatory behavior in males, but masculinize the vocal control regions in the brain and singing behavior of females. It is difficult to understand how these behaviors differentiate given that normal untreated males sing and copulate in a male-typical manner, whereas females never show these behaviors. All attempts to resolve this paradox with experiments based on the rodent model of sexual differentiation have been unsuccessful. We propose that copulatory behavior in zebra finches is differentiated in a manner similar to what has been described in quail, but that novel approaches need to be considered to understand the differentiation of the telencephalic song control system. In particular, the possible involvement of afferent input that may differentiate in a steroid-dependent or -independent manner should be thoroughly tested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-29
Number of pages9
JournalTrends in Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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