Structural changes between seasons in the songbird auditory forebrain.
ABSTRACT The song control system (SCS) of seasonal songbirds shows remarkable seasonal plasticity. Male starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) sing throughout the year, but in the breeding season, when concentrations of testosterone are elevated, the song is highly sexually motivated. The main goal of this study was to investigate structural seasonal changes in regions involved in auditory processing and in socio-sexual behavior. Using in vivo Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), we measured in breeding and nonbreeding seasons volume and tissue characteristics of several brain regions of nine adult male starlings. We demonstrate that the songbird brain exhibits an extreme seasonal plasticity not merely limited to the SCS. Volumetric analysis showed seasonal telencephalon volume changes and more importantly also a volumetric change in the caudal region of the nidopallium (NCM), a region analogous to the mammalian secondary auditory cortex. Analysis of the DTI data allowed detection of seasonal changes in cellular attributes in NCM and regions involved in social behavior. This study extends our view on a seasonally dynamic avian brain which not only hones its song control system but also auditory and social systems to be prepared for the breeding season.
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ABSTRACT: The song control system of songbirds displays a remarkable seasonal neuroplasticity in species in which song output also changes seasonally. Thus far, this song control system has been extensively analyzed by histological and electrophysiological methods. However, these approaches do not provide a global view of the brain and/or do not allow repeated measurements, which are necessary to establish causal correlations between alterations in neural substrate and behavior. Research has primarily been focused on the song nuclei themselves, largely neglecting their interconnections and other brain regions involved in seasonally changing behavior. In this review, we introduce and explore the song control system of songbirds as a natural model for brain plasticity. At the same time, we point out the added value of the songbird brain model for in vivo diffusion tensor techniques and its derivatives. A compilation of the diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data obtained thus far in this system demonstrates the usefulness of this in vivo method for studying brain plasticity. In particular, it is shown to be a perfect tool for long-term studies of morphological and cellular changes of specific brain circuits in different endocrine/photoperiod conditions. The method has been successfully applied to obtain quantitative measurements of seasonal changes of fiber tracts and nuclei from the song control system. In addition, outside the song control system, changes have been discerned in the optic chiasm and in an interhemispheric connection. DTI allows the detection of seasonal changes in a region analogous to the mammalian secondary auditory cortex and in regions of the 'social behavior network', an interconnected group of structures that controls multiple social behaviors, including aggression and courtship. DTI allows the demonstration, for the first time, that the songbird brain in its entirety exhibits an extreme seasonal plasticity which is not merely limited to the song control system as was generally believed.NMR in Biomedicine 08/2010; 23(7):873-83. · 3.21 Impact Factor
Article: Neural correlates of behavioural olfactory sensitivity changes seasonally in European starlings.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Possibly due to the small size of the olfactory bulb (OB) as compared to rodents, it was generally believed that songbirds lack a well-developed sense of smell. This belief was recently revised by several studies showing that various bird species, including passerines, use olfaction in many respects of life. During courtship and nest building, male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) incorporate aromatic herbs that are rich in volatile compounds (e.g., milfoil, Achillea millefolium) into the nests and they use olfactory cues to identify these plants. Interestingly, European starlings show seasonal differences in their ability to respond to odour cues: odour sensitivity peaks during nest-building in the spring, but is almost non-existent during the non-breeding season. This study used repeated in vivo Manganese-enhanced MRI to quantify for the first time possible seasonal changes in the anatomy and activity of the OB in starling brains. We demonstrated that the OB of the starling exhibits a functional seasonal plasticity of certain plant odour specificity and that the OB is only able to detect milfoil odour during the breeding season. Volumetric analysis showed that this seasonal change in activity is not linked to a change in OB volume. By subsequently experimentally elevating testosterone (T) in half of the males during the non-breeding season we showed that the OB volume was increased compared to controls. By investigating the neural substrate of seasonal olfactory sensitivity changes we show that the starlings' OB loses its ability during the non-breeding season to detect a natural odour of a plant preferred as green nest material by male starlings. We found that testosterone, applied during the non-breeding season, does not restore the discriminatory ability of the OB but has an influence on its size.PLoS ONE 01/2010; 5(12):e14337. · 4.09 Impact Factor