From zebra fish to humans, reproductive hormones govern behavioral responses to courtship signals. A new Emory University study conducted in songbirds suggests that hormones may also modulate the way the auditory system processes courtship signals. In other words, hormones may affect how the birds actually listen to courtship songs at certain times of the year when its time to reproduce.
Like many animals, songbirds put on their reproductive song and dance routine each spring: Male birds perform their finest songs, and female birds respond, hormonally prepped for the breeding season. In this research, Emory neuroscientist Donna Maney examined the auditory areas of the brain to see how estrogen affects the selectivity of song-induced gene expression. Dubbed the "genomic response," this is a highly specific process wherein genes are turned on to perform as theyre programmed.
"Our work suggests that estrogen, which is normally high only during the breeding season, may actually alter auditory pathways and centers," Maney says. "The changes in gene expression reflect changes in the brain that are related to auditory learning and attention."
Beverly Cox Clark | EurekAlert!
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