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Keywords:

  • brain slices;
  • cell proliferation;
  • corticosterone;
  • ventricular zone;
  • zebra finch

Abstract

Neural proliferation is a conserved property of the adult vertebrate brain. In mammals, stress reduces hippocampal neuronal proliferation and the effect is stronger in males than in females. We tested the effects of glucocorticoids on ventricular zone cell proliferation in adult zebra finches where neurons are produced that migrate to and incorporate within the neural circuits controlling song learning and performance. Adult male zebra finches sing and have an enlarged song circuitry; females do not sing and the song circuit is poorly developed. Freshly prepared slices from adult males and females containing the lateral ventricles were incubated with the mitotic marker BrdU with or without steroid treatments. BrdU-labeled cells were revealed immunocytochemically and all labeled cells within the ventricular zone were counted. We identified significantly higher rates of proliferation along the ventricular zone of males than in females. Moreover, acute administration of corticosterone significantly reduced proliferation in males with no effects in females. This effect in males was replicated by RU-486, which appears to act as an agonist of the glucocorticoid receptor in the songbird brain. The corticosterone effect was reversed by Thiram, which disrupts corticosterone action on the glucocorticoid receptor. Sex differences in proliferation and responses to stress hormones may contribute to the sexually dimorphic and seasonal growth of the neural song system of songbirds.