Immediate and long-term effects of testosterone on song plasticity and learning in juvenile song sparrows

Christopher N. Templeton, John M. Burt, S. Elizabeth Campbell, Karin Lent, Eliot A. Brenowitz, Michael D. Beecher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Steroid sex hormones play critical roles in the development of brain regions used for vocal learning. It has been suggested that puberty-induced increases in circulating testosterone (T) levels crystallize a bird's repertoire and inhibit future song learning. Previous studies show that early administration of T crystallizes song repertoires but have not addressed whether new songs can be learned after this premature crystallization. We brought 8 juvenile song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) into the laboratory in the late summer and implanted half of them with subcutaneous T pellets for a two week period in October. Birds treated with T tripled their singing rates and crystallized normal songs in 2 weeks. After T removal, subjects were tutored by 4 new adults. Birds previously treated with T tended toward learning fewer new songs post T, consistent with the hypothesis that T helps to close the song learning phase. However, one T-treated bird proceeded to learn several new songs in the spring, despite singing perfectly crystallized songs in the fall. His small crystallized fall repertoire and initial lag behind other subjects in song development suggest that this individual may have had limited early song learning experience. We conclude that an exposure to testosterone sufficient for crystallization of a normal song repertoire does not necessarily prevent future song learning and suggest that early social experiences might override the effects of hormones in closing song learning. (c) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)254-260
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioural Processes
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012


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