Song activation by testosterone is associated with an increased catecholaminergic innervation of the song control system in female canaries

D. Appeltants, G. F. Ball, J. Balthazart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


In canaries, singing and a large number of morphological features of the neural system that mediates the learning, perception and production of song exhibit marked sex differences. Although these differences have been mainly attributed to sex-specific patterns of the action of testosterone and its metabolites, the mechanisms by which sex steroids regulate brain and behavior are far from being completely understood. Given that the density of immunoreactive catecholaminergic fibers that innervate telencephalic song nuclei in canaries is higher in males, which sing, than in females, which usually do not sing, we hypothesized that some of the effects induced by testosterone on song behavior are mediated through the action of the steroid on the catecholaminergic neurons which innervate the song control nuclei. Therefore, we investigated in female canaries the effects of a treatment with exogenous testosterone on song production, on the volume of song control nuclei, and on the catecholaminergic innervation of these nuclei as assessed by immunocytochemical visualization of tyrosine hydroxylase. Testosterone induced male-like singing in all females and increased by about 80% the volume of two telencephalic song control nuclei, the high vocal center (HVC) and the nucleus robustus archistriatalis (RA). Testosterone also significantly increased the fractional area covered by tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive structures (fibers and varicosities) in most telencephalic song control nuclei (HVC, the lateral and medial parts of the magnocellular nucleus of the anterior neostriatum, the nucleus interfacialis, and to a lesser extent RA). By contrast, testosterone did not affect the catecholaminergic innervation of the telencephalic areas adjacent to HVC and RA. Together these data demonstrate that, in parallel to its effects on song behavior and on the morphology of the song control system, testosterone also regulates the catecholaminergic innervation of most telencephalic song control nuclei in canaries. The endocrine regulation of singing may thus involve the neuromodulatory action of specialized dopaminergic and/or noradrenergic projections onto several key parts of the song control system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)801-814
Number of pages14
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 15 2003


  • AR
  • AVT
  • Analysis of variance
  • Androgen receptor
  • Area ventralis of Tsai
  • CAergic
  • Catecholamine
  • Catecholaminergic
  • DA
  • DAergic
  • DLM
  • Dopamine
  • Dopaminergic
  • Dorsolateral thalamic nucleus
  • ER
  • Female canary
  • Learned vocalization
  • Songbird
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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