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Keywords:

  • estrogen;
  • testosterone;
  • songbird;
  • synapse;
  • learning

Abstract

The vertebrate brain is a source of estrogen (E) via the expression of aromatase (E-synthase). In the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), despite documented dimorphisms in E-action, no differences are detectable in circulating E, or the neural levels of aromatase transcription, activity, or somal protein expression. Studies of aromatase expression at the light- and electron-microscope levels reveal greater numbers of fibers and presynaptic boutons in adult males relative to females. We assayed aromatase activity and content in synaptosomes and microsomes from the anterior [containing lMAN and Area X (males)] and posterior telencephalon (containing HVC and RA) of adult birds. In contrast to non-song birds and mammals, both cell fractions contain abundant aromatase measurable in terms of activity (enzyme assays) and content (Western blots) with minimal enrichment in microsomes. From brain homogenates of identical concentration, aromatase activity was higher in the synaptosomal relative to the microsomal fraction, in males relative to females, and in the posterior compared to anterior telencephalon. These effects were driven by high levels of synaptosomal aromatase in the male posterior telencephalon. These data suggest that males possess more aromatase per presynaptic bouton, or a greater number of aromatase-containing presynaptic boutons than females in the posterior telencephalon. Further, the present report reveals synaptic aromatization as a considerable source of E in the zebra finch brain, and supports the idea that telencephalic synapses in and around the adult male song production nuclei may be exposed to higher levels of E compared to the female brain. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Neurobiol 67: 1–9, 2007