Auditory learning in an operant task with social reinforcement is dependent on neuroestrogen synthesis in the male songbird auditory cortex

Horm Behav. 2020 May;121:104713. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2020.104713. Epub 2020 Feb 19.


Animals continually assess their environment for cues associated with threats, competitors, allies, mates or prey, and experience is crucial for those associations. The auditory cortex is important for these computations to enable valence assignment and associative learning. The caudomedial nidopallium (NCM) is part of the songbird auditory association cortex and it is implicated in juvenile song learning, song memorization, and song perception. Like human auditory cortex, NCM is a site of action of estradiol (E2) and is enriched with the enzyme aromatase (E2-synthase). However, it is unclear how E2 modulates auditory learning and perception in the vertebrate auditory cortex. In this study we employ a novel, auditory-dependent operant task governed by social reinforcement to test the hypothesis that neuro-E2 synthesis supports auditory learning in adult male zebra finches. We show that local suppression of aromatase activity in NCM disrupts auditory association learning. By contrast, post-learning performance is unaffected by either NCM aromatase blockade or NCM pharmacological inactivation, suggesting that NCM E2 production and even NCM itself are not required for post-learning auditory discrimination or memory retrieval. Therefore, neuroestrogen synthesis in auditory cortex supports the association between sounds and behaviorally relevant consequences.

Keywords: Audition; Estradiol; Neuroestrogen; Nongenomic; Vocal learning; Zebra finch.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Auditory Cortex / metabolism*
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology
  • Estradiol / physiology
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Finches / metabolism
  • Finches / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Neuroendocrine Cells / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism
  • Reinforcement, Social
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology


  • Estrogens
  • Neuropeptides
  • Estradiol