Differential effects of global versus local testosterone on singing behavior and its underlying neural substrate

Beau A. Alward, Jacques Balthazart, Gregory F. Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Steroid hormones regulate multiple but distinct aspects of social behaviors. Testosterone (T) has multiple effects on learned courtship song in that it regulates both the motivation to sing in a particular social context as well as the quality of song produced. The neural substrate(s) where T acts to regulate the motivation to sing as opposed to other aspects of song has not been definitively characterized. We show here that T implants in the medial preoptic nucleus (POM) of castrated male canaries (Serinus canaria) increase song rate but do not enhance acoustic features such as song stereotypy compared with birds receiving peripheral T that can act globally throughout the brain. Strikingly, T action in the POM increased song control nuclei volume, consistent with the hypothesis that singing activity induces neuroplasticity in the song control system independent of T acting in these nuclei. When presented with a female canary, POM-T birds copulated at a rate comparable to birds receiving systemic T but produced fewer calls and songs in her presence. Thus, POM is a key site where T acts to activate copulation and increase song rate, an appetitive sexual behavior in songbirds, but T action in other areas of the brain or periphery (e.g., HVC, dopaminergic cell groups, or the syrinx) is required to enhance the quality of song (i.e., stereotypy) as well as regulate context-specific vocalizations. These results have broad implications for research concerning how steroids act at multiple brain loci to regulate distinct sociosexual behaviors and the associated neuroplasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19573-19578
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number48
StatePublished - Nov 26 2013


  • Activity-driven plasticity
  • Preoptic area
  • Singing motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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