Rapid neuroendocrine responses to auditory courtship signals

Endocrinology. 2007 Dec;148(12):5614-23. doi: 10.1210/en.2007-0879. Epub 2007 Sep 6.


In many species, courtship signals enhance reproductive function in the receiver. How these social signals are processed by the brain, particularly how they induce an endocrine response, is not well understood. Songbirds provide an ideal model in which to study this phenomenon because of the large existing literature on both their auditory neurobiology and the control of their reproductive physiology by environmental cues. To date, all of the relevant studies on songbirds have involved measuring the effects of male vocalizations on ovarian function over a period of weeks, a time course that precludes detailed analysis of the neuroendocrine mechanisms operating during song perception. We played recordings of conspecific male song to laboratory-housed female white-throated sparrows and quantified the resulting rapid changes in LH as well as the induction of the immediate early gene Egr-1 in the GnRH system and mediobasal hypothalamus (MBH). Hearing song for 42 min induced LH release and Egr-1 expression in the MBH, but did not alter Egr-1 expression in GnRH neurons. The time course of LH release and the pattern of Egr-1 expression together suggest that song acts as a trigger to induce GnRH release in a manner resembling photostimulation. The Egr-1 response in the MBH was qualitatively distinguishable from the responses to either photostimulation or pharmacologically induced LH release but seemed to involve overlapping neuronal populations. Song-induced Egr-1 expression in the MBH was correlated with the expression in midbrain and forebrain auditory centers, further supporting a role for the MBH in processing social information.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Courtship*
  • Early Growth Response Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Luteinizing Hormone / metabolism
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurosecretory Systems / metabolism*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology
  • Photoperiod
  • Sparrows / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Early Growth Response Protein 1
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Luteinizing Hormone