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J Neurobiol. 1996 Aug;30(4):531-42.

Sex difference among nonneuronal cells precedes sexually dimorphic neuron growth and survival in an avian song control nucleus.

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Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester, New York 14627, USA.


In zebra finches only males sing, and several song control nuclei contain more neurons in adult males than in females. In the robust nucleus of the archistriatum (RA), this sex difference in neuron number arises because neuron survival is greater in young males than in females. The events initiating this sex difference in neuron survival are not known, but in earlier studies we observed that during sexual differentiation the proliferation and/ or survival of RA cells exhibiting glial morphology is greater in males than in females. Because glia and glia-derived molecules are known to exert trophic effects on developing neurons, we wanted to determine when the sex difference in RA glia develops relative to the sexually dimorphic growth and survival of RA neurons. Male and female zebra finches were injected twice daily with 3[H]thymidine for 2 days beginning either on day 15 or 27. Two days later (day 18 or 30) sections through the RA were processed for autoradiography. Virtually all of the 3[H]thymidine labeled cells within the RA exhibited morphological features characteristic of glia and were not immunoreactive for the neuron-specific antigen, Hu. The number of these 3[H]thymidine labeled cells was measured, as were the number and soma size of RA neurons. Sex differences in RA neuron number and soma size were not evident at day 18, but emerged by day 30. However, at both ages the density of 3[H]thymidine labeled RA cells and their total number/RA neuron were significantly greater in males than in females. No such sexual dimorphism in the density of 3[H]thymidine labeled cells was evident in the archistriatum lateral to the RA, or within the RA of adult birds. These data indicate that sexually dimorphic gliogenesis is an early event in the sexual differentiation of the RA, preceding sex differences in RA neuron growth and survival. The possibility that glia (or glia-derived substances) may contribute to the neurotrophic effects of masculinization within the RA is discussed.

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