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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 Aug 16;91(17):7844-8.

Cell death and neuronal recruitment in the high vocal center of adult male canaries are temporally related to changes in song.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459-0170.


Adult male canaries modify their song every year. Most of these changes occur during late summer and early fall, after the end of the breeding season, and in late winter, immediately before the onset of the next breeding season. The high vocal center (HVC) is an important nucleus in the brain pathway that controls this learned behavior. New neurons continue to be added to the HVC of adult male canaries, where they replace older neurons that have died. The present report describes the monthly incidence of cell death and neuronal addition in the HVC of such birds. Different groups of 1- to 2-year-old male canaries were treated with [3H]thymidine, a marker of cell birth, during each month of the year and killed 27 days later. The ratio of 3H-labeled neurons to all neurons in the HVC showed seasonal peaks and troughs. This ratio was highest in October and March. Peaks in the ratio of pycnotic (dying) HVC cells to all neurons in HVC preceded the peaks in the ratio of 3H-labeled neurons. We suggest that seasonal peaks in cell loss and neuronal recruitment in HVC are related to endocrine changes and that all three play a role in the seasonality of song modification.

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