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Behav Neural Biol. 1991 Nov;56(3):240-50.

Altered daylength affects dendritic structure in a song-related brain region in red-winged blackbirds.

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  • 1Field of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.


Substantial neural and behavioral plasticity occurs in the avian song system in adulthood. Changes in the volume of one of the song control nuclei, robustus archistriatalis (RA), have been associated with seasonal changes in singing behavior in adult canaries (Serinus canarius) and red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). The present work assessed the effects of changed daylength on dendritic morphology in RA in adult male red-winged blackbirds. Brains from hand-reared red-winged blackbirds maintained on long days or long days followed by short days were stained with a Golgi-Cox procedure. Dendritic morphology and spine density of type IV neurons from nucleus RA were compared between long and short day birds. Neurons from short day birds have smaller dendritic fields than neurons from long day birds, with the difference greatest for distal dendrites. In addition, the density of dendritic spines is significantly smaller for neurons from short day birds. Together, these changes result in the loss of approximately 40% of the spines on this neuron class. In previous work in adult female canaries, external testosterone administration has been shown to be associated with increases in dendritic field size and synapse number. The similarity of the neuronal changes in RA that are associated with the two sorts of manipulations suggest that some consequences of altered daylength are mediated by changes in the levels of gonadal steroids.

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