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Keywords:

  • gonadal steroids;
  • flutamide;
  • vocal learning;
  • song-control nuclei;
  • passerine birds;
  • tamoxifen

Abstract

Both song behavior and its neural substrate are hormone sensitive: Castrated adult male zebra finches need replacement of gonadal steroids in order to restore normal levels of song production, and sexsteroids are necessary to establish male-typical neural song-controlcircuits during early development. This pattern of results suggests that hormones may be required for normal development of learned songbehavior, but evidence that steroids are necessary for normal neuraland behavioral development during song learning has been lacking. Weaddressed this question by attempting to eliminate the effects of gonadal steroids in juvenile male zebra finches between the time of initial song production and adulthood. Males were castrated at 20 daysof age and received systemic implants of either an antiandrogen (flutamide). an antiestrogen (tamoxifen), or both drugs. The songs of both flutamide-and tamoxifen-treated birds were extremely disrupted relative to normal controls in terms of the stereotypy and acoustic quality of individual note production, as well as stereotypy of the temporal structure of the song phrase. We did not discern any differences in the pattern of behavioral disruption between birds that were treated with either flutamide, tamoxifen, or a combination of both drugs. Flutamide treatment resulted in a reduced size of two forebrain nuclei that are known to play some role unique to early phases of song learning [lateral magnocellular nucleus of the anterior neostriatum (IMAN) and area X (X)], but did not affect the size of two song-control nuclei that are necessary for normal song productionin adult birds [caudal nucleus of the ventral hyperstriatum (HVc) and robust nucleus of the archistriatum (RA)]. In contrast, treatment with tamoxifen did not result in any changes in the size of song-control nuclei relative to normal controls, and it blocked the effects of flutamide on the neural song-control system in birds that were treated with both drugs. Castration and antisteroid treatment exerted no deleterious effects on the quality of song behavior in adult birds, indicating that gonadal hormones are necessary for the development of normal song behavior during a sensitive period. © 1992 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.