The oscine song system, a set of interconnected brain nuclei involved in song production and learning, is one of the first and clearest examples of brain sexual dimorphism in a vertebrate, being typically well-developed in males, but not females. Here we present evidence for a sexual dimorphism in the caudomedial nidopallidum (NCM), an auditory area outside of the song system. NCM is thought to correspond to a portion of the auditory cortex of mammals and is involved in the perceptual processing of birdsong. We show that cells immunolabeled for the calcium-binding protein calbindin are primarily localized to caudal NCM and are almost twice as numerous in males as in females. We demonstrate that calbindin-positive cells constitute a subset of GABAergic cells in NCM, and show that the sex dimorphism in this cell population does not result from local gender differences in the overall density of neuronal or GABAergic cells. In addition, we demonstrate that calbindin-positive cells lack song-induced expression of the activity-dependent gene ZENK, and that song stimulation does not change the density or distribution of these cells in NCM. Finally, we show that the distribution of calbindin-positive cells in NCM is strikingly similar to the mRNA expression for the estrogen-generating enzyme aromatase. Together these results suggest that NCM is likely composed of neurochemically-distinct domains and presents a marked sex dimorphism in a specific subset of GABAergic neurons, which may confer sex-specific sensory processing capabilities to this auditory area. Our results also suggest that local sex steroid hormones may play a local role in auditory processing in the songbird telencephalon.
- Sexual dimorphism
- Vocal learning
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience