Roles of photoperiod and testosterone in seasonal plasticity of the avian song control system

J Neurobiol. 1997 Apr;32(4):426-42. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-4695(199704)32:4<426::aid-neu6>;2-8.


The song control nuclei of songbirds undergo pronounced seasonal changes in size and neuronal attributes. The mechanisms by which seasonal changes in environmental variables such as photoperiod mediate seasonal changes in these brain regions are not known. Manipulations of photoperiod and/or testosterone in captive songbirds induce seasonal changes in the size of song nuclei comparable to those observed in wild songbirds. It is unclear, however, whether the effects of photoperiod on the song nuclei are mediated by testosterone or by steroid-independent mechanisms. We independently manipulated photoperiod and testosterone in castrated male Gambel's white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii) to determine the contributions of steroid-dependent and -independent actions of photoperiod to seasonal changes in the size and neuronal attributes of song nuclei. Testosterone implants increased the size of several song nuclei, regardless of photoperiod. Photoperiod exerted small but significant steroid-independent effects on the volume of the higher vocal center and the size of neurons in the robust nucleus of the archistriatum. Photoperiod also modulated the effect of testosterone on the size of area X; testosterone treatment had a more pronounced effect on the size of area X on short days than on long days. These results suggest that although testosterone is the primary factor mediating seasonal changes in neural attributes of the song nuclei, photoperiod may act via mechanisms that are independent of steroid levels to supplement or modulate the actions of testosterone.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Photoperiod*
  • Seasons*
  • Testosterone / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Testosterone