Behavioral effects of brain-derived estrogens in birds

Jacques Balthazart, Melanie Taziaux, Kevin Holloway, Gregory F. Ball, Charlotte A. Cornil

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


In birds as in other vertebrates, estrogens produced in the brain by aromatization of testosterone have widespread effects on behavior. Research conducted with male Japanese quail demonstrates that effects of brain estrogens on all aspects of sexual behavior, including appetitive and consummatory components as well as learned aspects, can be divided into two main classes based on their time course. First, estrogens via binding to estrogen receptors regulate the transcription of a variety of genes involved primarily in neurotransmission. These neurochemical effects ultimately result in the activation of male copulatory behavior after a latency of a few days. Correlatively, testosterone and its aromatized metabolites increase the transcription of the aromatase mRNA, resulting in an increased concentration and activity of the enzyme that actually precedes behavioral activation. Second, recent studies with quail demonstrate that brain aromatase activity can also be modulated within minutes by phosphorylation processes regulated by changes in intracellular calcium concentration, such as those associated with glutamatergic neurotransmission. The rapid upregulations or downregulations of brain estrogen concentration (presumably resulting from these changes in aromatase activity) affect, by nongenomic mechanisms with relatively short latencies (frequency increases or decreases respectively within 10-15 min), the expression of male sexual behavior in quail and also in rodents. Brain estrogens thus affect behavior on different time scales by genomic and nongenomic mechanisms similar to those of a hormone or a neurotransmitter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTrends in Comparative Endocrinology and Neurobiology
PublisherBlackwell Publishing Inc.
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9781573316712
StatePublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
ISSN (Print)0077-8923
ISSN (Electronic)1749-6632


  • Appetitive sexual behavior
  • Aromatase
  • Cloacal gland sphincter
  • Copulatory behavior
  • Estrogens
  • Japanese quail
  • Medial preoptic area
  • Nongenomic effects
  • Sexual learning
  • Steroids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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