Seasonal-like plasticity of spontaneous firing rate in a songbird pre-motor nucleus

Kevin H.J. Park, John Meitzen, Ignacio T. Moore, Eliot A. Brenowitz, David J. Perkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Many animals exhibit seasonal changes in behavior and its underlying neural substrates. In seasonally breeding songbirds, the brain nuclei that control song learning and production undergo substantial structural changes at the onset of each breeding season, in association with changes in song behavior. These changes are largely mediated by photoperiod-dependent changes in circulating concentrations of gonadal steroid hormones. Little is known, however, about whether changes in the electrophysiological activity of neurons accompany the dramatic morphological changes in the song nuclei. Here we induced seasonal-like changes in the song systems of adult white-crowned sparrows and used extracellular recording in acute brain slices from those individuals to study physiological properties of neurons in the robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA), a pre-motor nucleus necessary for song production. We report that: RA neurons from birds in breeding condition show a more than twofold increase in spontaneous firing rate compared to those from nonbreeding condition; this change appears to require both androgenic and estrogenic actions; and this change is intrinsic to the RA neurons. Thus, neurons in the song circuit exhibit both morphological and physiological adult seasonal plasticity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-191
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neurobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Androgen
  • Birdsong
  • Electrophysiology
  • Estrogen
  • Testosterone


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