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Keywords:

  • aromatase;
  • cerebellum;
  • estradiol;
  • spatial cognition;
  • zebra finch

Abstract

In addition to its key role in complex motor function, the cerebellum is increasingly recognized to have a role in cognition. Songbirds are particularly good models for the investigation of motor and cognitive processes but little is known about the role of the songbird cerebellum in these processes. To explore cerebellar function in a songbird, we lesioned the cerebellum of adult female zebra finches and examined the effects on a spatial working memory task and on motor function during this task. There is evidence for steroid synthesis in the songbird brain and neurosteroids may have an impact on some forms of neural plasticity in adult songbirds. We therefore hypothesized that neurosteroids would affect motor and cognitive function after a cerebellar injury. We found that cerebellar lesions produced deficits in motor and cognitive aspects of a spatial task. In line with our prediction, birds in which estrogen synthesis was blocked had impaired performance in our spatial task compared with those that had estrogen synthesis blocked but estrogen replaced. There was no clear effect of estrogen replacement on motor function. We also found that lesions induced expression of the estrogen synthetic enzyme aromatase in reactive astrocytes and Bergmann glia around a cerebellar lesion. These data suggest that the cerebellum of songbirds mediates both motor and cognitive function and that estrogens may improve the recovery of cognitive aspects of cerebellar function after injury.