Sex-dependent loss of projection neurons involved in avian song learning

J Neurobiol. 1992 Aug;23(6):671-9. doi: 10.1002/neu.480230606.


In zebra finches, only males sing, and the neural regions controlling song exhibit prominent, hormone-induced sex differences in neuron number. In order to understand how sexual differentiation regulates neuron number within one song nucleus, the lateral magnocellular nucleus of the anterior neostriatum (IMAN), we studied the development of sex differences among IMAN neurons that project to the robust nucleus of the archistriatum (RA). The IMAN is implicated in song learning, and previous ontogenetic studies have indicated that males lose over 50% of their IMAN neurons during the juvenile song learning period. Based on developmental changes in both the extent of androgen accumulation within the IMAN and its appearance in Nissl-stained tissue, it had been hypothesized that IMAN neuron loss was even greater in young females, resulting in sex differences in neuron number. However, this hypothesis has not been tested directly because the Nissl-stained boundaries of the IMAN sometimes are ambiguous in young animals, and are not evident at all in adult females. To circumvent these problems, we employed the retrograde tracer fast blue to study the development of IMAN neurons defined on the basis of their projections to the RA. We find that the number of these IMAN-RA projection neurons is much greater in adult males than in females, and that this sex difference develops during the juvenile period of sexual differentiation and song learning because a significant number of these neurons are lost in females but not in males. With respect to sexual differentiation, we conclude that masculinization (which is stimulated by the hormone estradiol) promotes the retention of IMAN-RA projection neurons. In addition, our results indicate that any loss of IMAN neurons that may occur in young males does not include cells projecting to the RA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / cytology
  • Corpus Striatum / growth & development
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Female
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*