Sexual differentiation of the zebra finch song system

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Jun;1016:540-59. doi: 10.1196/annals.1298.015.


The song system of zebra finches (Taeniopygia gutatta) is highly sexually dimorphic. Only males sing, and the brain regions and muscles controlling song are much larger in males than in females. Development of the song system is highly sensitive to steroid hormones. However, unlike similar sexually dimorphic systems in other animal models, masculinization of song system structure and function is most likely not induced by testosterone secreted from the testes. Instead, sex-specific development of the neural song system appears to be regulated by factors intrinsic to the brain, probably by the expression of sex chromosome gene(s) that influence the levels of estradiol synthesized in the brain and/or the responses of brain tissue to estradiol. However, the existing data are complex and in some cases contradictory. More work is required to identify the critical genes and their relationships with steroid hormones.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Estrogens / biosynthesis
  • Estrogens / physiology
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sex Chromosomes / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Songbirds / genetics
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Androgens
  • Estrogens
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones