The distribution of tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactivity in the brains of male and female zebra finches

J Neurobiol. 1993 Jan;24(1):51-69. doi: 10.1002/neu.480240105.


A system of brain nuclei controls song learning and behavior in zebra finches (Poephila guttata). The size of song-control nuclei are much larger in males, which sing, than in females, which do not sing. This study examined the distribution of fibers, terminals, and cell bodies that are immunoreactive for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) (the rate-limiting enzyme in the synthesis of catecholamines) in song-control nuclei of adult males and females and juvenile males. In addition, the broad pattern of TH staining throughout the brain was described. There was a sex difference in TH immunoreactivity within song-control nuclei: males had light to moderate staining in all three cortical nuclei examined, whereas females had little or no label in corresponding areas [lateral magnocellular nucleus of the anterior neostriatum (IMAN), higher vocal center (HVC), and robust nucleus of the archistriatum (RA)]. The song-control nucleus area X (X), located in the striatum of avian basal ganglia, was more darkly stained than the surrounding striatum only in males; X was not defined by more intense immunoreactivity in females and hence could not be visualized. There were no apparent differences in TH staining in males ranging in age from 50 days to adulthood (> 90 days). Outside of the song-control system there were no substantive differences as a function of sex or age in the pattern or intensity of TH labeling. Major areas of telencephalic staining included the striatal region of basal ganglia, which was covered with dense, fine-grained label, and the septum, where cell bodies were encircled by extremely well-labeled thick processes. In the diencephalon, the preoptic area and hypothalamus included a complex pattern of darkly stained somata and fiber and terminal labeling. Darkly stained somata surrounded the pretectal nucleus, and labeled processes ramified throughout the superficial layers of the optic tectum. The midbrain and hindbrain contained a dense plexus of extremely dark cell bodies corresponding to mammalian substantia nigra, adjacent tegmental areas, and locus ceruleus. Labeled hindbrain cells were also seen in the pontine region, around nucleus solitarius, and in the ventrolateral medulla.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / metabolism*
  • Brain / enzymology*
  • Female
  • Hypothalamus / enzymology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / enzymology
  • Preoptic Area / enzymology
  • Rhombencephalon / enzymology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Telencephalon / enzymology
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / analysis*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase