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J Comp Neurol. 2009 Oct 1;516(4):312-20. doi: 10.1002/cne.22113.

Differential responsiveness in brain and behavior to sexually dimorphic long calls in male and female zebra finches.

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Behavioural Biology and Helmholtz Institute, Utrecht University, 3508 TB Utrecht, the Netherlands.


In zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), as in most other songbird species, there are robust sex differences in brain morphology and vocal behavior. First, male zebra finches have larger song system nuclei--involved in sensorimotor learning and production of song--than females. Second, male zebra finches learn their song from a tutor, whereas female zebra finches develop a learned preference for the song of their father but do not sing themselves. Third, female zebra finches produce an unlearned "long call," while males learn their long call (which is different from that of females) from their song tutor. We investigated behavioral and molecular neuronal responsiveness to this sexually dimorphic communication signal. Behavioral responsiveness was quantified by measuring the number of calls and approaches in response to calls that were broadcast from a speaker. We quantified neuronal activation by measuring the number of neurons expressing Zenk, the protein product of the immediate early gene ZENK, in a number of different forebrain regions in response to male calls, to female calls, or to silence. In both sexes female calls evoked more calls and approaches than male calls. There was significantly greater Zenk expression in response to female calls compared to silence in the caudomedial nidopallium, caudomedial mesopallium, and the hippocampus in females, but not in males. Thus, male and female zebra finches both show a behavioral preference for female calls, but differential neuronal activation in response to sexually dimorphic calls.

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