Two histological markers reveal a similar photoperiodic difference in the volume of the high vocal center in male European starlings

Daniel J. Bernard, Gregory F. Ball

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65 Scopus citations


Most studies of seasonal changes in the avian song control system have used Nissl stains to characterize the nuclei. More recent work has indicated that changes in nucleus volume evident in Nissl‐stained tissue are not always apparent when investigated with other histochemical criteria. In this experiment, we used two different markers (Nissl stain and α2‐adrenergic receptor autoradiography) to characterize changes in the song system of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Fluctuating levels of circulating testosterone (T) appear to be causally related to seasonal changes in the song system. Therefore, we used photoperiod manipulations to place male starlings into different physiological conditions. Photosensitive male starlings were placed on 11L:13D or 16L:8D photoperiods for at least 5 months. Birds on 11L:13D have enlarged gonads and circulating T. In contrast, starlings maintained on 16L:8D initially show marked gonadal growth. However, after about 6–8 weeks the birds are photorefractory (i.e., the gonads are regressed and T falls to undetectable levels). The volume of the high vocal center (HVC) was 44% larger in the 11L:13D than in 16L:8D birds in Nissl‐stained tissue. The density of α2‐adrenergic receptors as determined by in vitro receptor autoradiography with [3H]p‐amino‐lonidine (PAC) is higher in HVC than in the surrounding neostriatum, clearly delineating the boundaries of the nucleus. We reconstructed the volume of HVC using PAC autoradiography on adjacent sections. The results were identical to those from the Nissl‐stained tissue. Thus, two histochemical markers indicate a photoperiodic difference in HVC volume of male starlings. © 1995 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)726-734
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • birdsong
  • neural plasticity
  • seasonal
  • testosterone
  • α ‐adrenergic receptor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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