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Keywords:

  • behavior;
  • cortex;
  • estrogen;
  • non-genomic;
  • signaling

Abstract

Although estrogens are widely considered circulating “sex steroid hormones” typically associated with female reproduction, recent evidence suggests that estrogens can act as local modulators of brain circuits in both males and females. The functional implications of this newly characterized estrogen signaling system have begun to emerge. This essay summarizes evidence in support of the hypothesis that the rapid production of estrogens in brain circuits can drive acute changes in both the production and perception of acoustic communication behaviors. These studies have revealed two fundamental neurobiological concepts: (1) estrogens can be locally produced in brain circuits, independent of levels in nearby circuits and in the circulation and (2) estrogens can have very rapid effects within these brain circuits to modulate social vocalizations, acoustic processing, and sensorimotor integration. This vertebrate-wide span of research, including vocalizing fishes, amphibians, and birds, emphasizes the importance of comparative model systems in understanding principles of neurobiology.