Reversing song behavior phenotype: Testosterone driven induction of singing and measures of song quality in adult male and female canaries (Serinus canaria)

Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2015 May 1:215:61-75. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2014.09.008. Epub 2014 Sep 26.


In songbirds, such as canaries (Serinus canaria), the song control circuit has been shown to undergo a remarkable change in morphology in response to exogenous testosterone (T). It is also well established that HVC, a telencephalic nucleus involved in song production, is significantly larger in males than in females. T regulates seasonal changes in HVC volume in males, and exposure to exogenous T in adult females increases HVC volume and singing activity such that their song becomes more male-like in frequency and structure. However, whether there are sex differences in the ability of T to modulate changes in the song system and song behavior has not been investigated in canaries. In this study, we compared the effects of increasing doses of T on singing and song control nuclei volumes in adult male and female American Singer canaries exposed to identical environmental conditions. Males were castrated and all birds were placed on short days (8L:16D) for 8 weeks. Males and females were implanted either with a 2, 6 or 12 mm long Silastic™ implant filled with crystalline T or an empty 12 mm implant as control. Birds were then housed individually in sound-attenuated chambers. Brains were collected from six birds from each group after 1 week or 3 weeks of treatment. Testosterone was not equally effective in increasing singing activity in both males and females. Changes in song quality and occurrence rate took place after a shorter latency in males than in females; however, females did undergo marked changes in a number of measures of song behavior if given sufficient time. Males responded with an increase in HVC volume at all three doses. In females, T-induced changes in HVC volume only had limited amplitude and these volumes never reached male-typical levels, suggesting that there are sex differences in the neural substrate that responds to T.

Keywords: Birdsong; Brain plasticity; HVC; Sex differences; Song; Testosterone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Canaries / physiology*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • Sex Factors
  • Singing / drug effects
  • Singing / physiology*
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Testosterone / pharmacology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / drug effects
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Testosterone