Uncovering a 'sensitive window' of multisensory and motor neuroplasticity in the cerebrum and cerebellum of male and female starlings

Elife. 2021 Jun 7;10:e66777. doi: 10.7554/eLife.66777.


Traditionally, research unraveling seasonal neuroplasticity in songbirds has focused on the male song control system and testosterone. We longitudinally monitored the song behavior and neuroplasticity in male and female starlings during multiple photoperiods using Diffusion Tensor and Fixel-Based techniques. These exploratory data-driven whole-brain methods resulted in a population-based tractogram confirming microstructural sexual dimorphisms in the song control system. Furthermore, male brains showed hemispheric asymmetries in the pallium, whereas females had higher interhemispheric connectivity, which could not be attributed to brain size differences. Only females with large brains sing but differ from males in their song behavior by showing involvement of the hippocampus. Both sexes experienced multisensory neuroplasticity in the song control, auditory and visual system, and cerebellum, mainly during the photosensitive period. This period with low gonadal hormone levels might represent a 'sensitive window' during which different sensory and motor systems in the cerebrum and cerebellum can be seasonally re-shaped in both sexes.

Keywords: European starling; Sturnus vulgaris; birdsong; cerebellum; diffusion tensor imaging; neuroplasticity; neuroscience; sexual dimorphism.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception
  • Cerebellum / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebellum / metabolism
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Cerebrum / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebrum / metabolism
  • Cerebrum / physiology*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Female
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Photoperiod
  • Seasons
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Starlings / blood
  • Starlings / physiology*
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Visual Perception
  • Vocalization, Animal*


  • Testosterone
  • Estradiol

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.h44j0zpj8

Grant support

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.