Testosterone alters genomic responses to song and monoaminergic innervation of auditory areas in a seasonally breeding songbird


Correspondence to: D.L. Maney (dmaney@emory.edu).


Behavioral responses to social stimuli often vary according to endocrine state. Our previous work has suggested that such changes in behavior may be due in part to hormone-dependent sensory processing. In the auditory forebrain of female white-throated sparrows, expression of the immediate early gene ZENK (egr-1) is higher in response to conspecific song than to a control sound only when plasma estradiol reaches breeding-typical levels. Estradiol also increases the number of detectable noradrenergic neurons in the locus coeruleus and the density of noradrenergic and serotonergic fibers innervating auditory areas. We hypothesize, therefore, that reproductive hormones alter auditory responses by acting on monoaminergic systems. This possibility has not been examined in males. Here, we treated non-breeding male white-throated sparrows with testosterone to mimic breeding-typical levels and then exposed them to conspecific male song or frequency-matched tones. We observed selective ZENK responses in the caudomedial nidopallium only in the testosterone-treated males. Responses in another auditory area, the caudomedial mesopallium, were selective regardless of hormone treatment. Testosterone treatment reduced serotonergic fiber density in the auditory forebrain, thalamus, and midbrain, and although it increased the number of noradrenergic neurons detected in the locus coeruleus, it reduced noradrenergic fiber density in the auditory midbrain. Thus, whereas we previously reported that estradiol enhances monoaminergic innervation of the auditory pathway in females, we show here that testosterone decreases it in males. Mechanisms underlying testosterone-dependent selectivity of the ZENK response may differ from estradiol-dependent ones.© 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Develop Neurobiol 73: 455–468, 2013