Neuroestrogen synthesis modifies neural representations of learned song without altering vocal imitation in developing songbirds

Sci Rep. 2020 Feb 27;10(1):3602. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-60329-3.


Birdsong learning, like human speech, depends on the early memorization of auditory models, yet how initial auditory experiences are formed and consolidated is unclear. In songbirds, a putative cortical locus is the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM), and one mechanism to facilitate auditory consolidation is 17β-estradiol (E2), which is associated with human speech-language development, and is abundant in both NCM and human temporal cortex. Circulating and NCM E2 levels are dynamic during learning, suggesting E2's involvement in encoding recent auditory experiences. Therefore, we tested this hypothesis in juvenile male songbirds using a comprehensive assessment of neuroanatomy, behavior, and neurophysiology. First, we found that brain aromatase expression, and thus the capacity to synthesize neuroestrogens, remains high in the auditory cortex throughout development. Further, while systemic estrogen synthesis blockade suppressed juvenile song production, neither systemic nor unilateral E2 synthesis inhibition in NCM disrupted eventual song imitation. Surprisingly, early life neuroestrogen synthesis blockade in NCM enhanced the neural representations of both the birds' own song and the tutor song in NCM and a downstream sensorimotor region, HVC, respectively. Taken together, these findings indicate that E2 plays a multifaceted role during development, and that, contrary to prediction, tutor song memorization is unimpaired by unilateral estrogen synthesis blockade in the auditory cortex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aromatase / metabolism*
  • Auditory Cortex / metabolism*
  • Auditory Pathways
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Estradiol / metabolism*
  • Finches / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Speech
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Estradiol
  • Aromatase