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Dev Neurobiol. 2008 Apr;68(5):656-68. doi: 10.1002/dneu.20611.

The integration of song environment by catecholaminergic systems innervating the auditory telencephalon of adult female European starlings.

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Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3280, USA.


Mate choice is among the most consequential decisions a sexually reproducing organism can make. In many songbird species, females make mate-choice decisions based, in part, on variation between males in songs that reflect their quality. Importantly, females may adjust their choice relative to the prevalence of high quality songs. In European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), females prefer males that primarily sing long songs over those that primarily sing short songs, and sensitivity of the auditory telencephalon to song length depends on the prevalence of long songs in the environment. Several lines of evidence suggest a role for noradrenergic innervation of the auditory telencephalon in mediating this neuro- and behavioral plasticity. To simulate variation in quality of the song environment, we exposed adult female starlings to 1 week of either long or short songs and then quantified several monoamines and their metabolites in the caudomedial mesopallium and caudomedial nidopallium (NCM) using high performance liquid chromatography. We also used immunocytochemistry to assess these areas for immunoreactive dopamine-beta-hydroxylase (DBH-ir), the enzyme that synthesizes norepinephrine. We found that long songs elevated levels of the principal norepinephrine metabolite, the principal dopamine metabolite, and the probability of DBH-ir in the NCM compared to short songs. Song environment did not appear to influence norepinephrine or dopamine levels. Thus, the quality of the song environment regulates the local secretion of catecholamines, particularly norepinephrine, in the female auditory telencephalon. This may form a basis for plasticity in forebrain sensitivity and mate-choice behavior based on the prevalence of high-quality males.

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