ZENK induction in the zebra finch brain by song: Relationship to hemisphere, rhythm, oestradiol and sex

J. Lampen, J. D. McAuley, S. E. Chang, J. Wade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Oestradiol is abundant in the zebra finch auditory forebrain and has the capacity to modulate neural responses to auditory stimuli with specificity as a result of both hemisphere and sex. Arrhythmic song induces greater ZENK expression than rhythmic song in the caudomedial nidopallium (NCM), caudomedial mesopallium (CMM) and nucleus taeniae (Tn) of adult zebra finches. The increases in the auditory regions (i.e. NCM and CMM) may result from detection of errors in the arrhythmic song relative to the learned template. In the present study, zebra finches were treated with oestradiol, the aromatase inhibitor fadrozole or a control and then exposed to rhythmic or arrhythmic song to assess the effect of oestradiol availability on neural responses to auditory rhythms. ZENK mRNA was significantly greater in the left hemisphere within the NCM, CMM and Tn. Main effects of sex were detected in both auditory regions, with increased ZENK in males in the NCM and in females in the CMM. In the CMM, an effect of hormone treatment also existed. Although no pairwise comparison was statistically significant, the pattern suggested greater ZENK expression in control compared to both fadrozole- and oestradiol-treated birds. In the NCM, an interaction between sex and hormone treatment suggested that the sex effect was restricted to control animals. An additional interaction in the NCM among sex, stimulus rhythmicity and hemisphere indicated that the strongest effect of laterality was present in males exposed to arrhythmic song. The hormone effects suggest that an optimal level of oestradiol may exist for processing rhythmicity of auditory stimuli. The overall pattern for left lateralisation parallels the left lateralisation of language processing in humans and may suggest that this hemisphere is specialised for processing conspecific vocalisations. The reversed sex differences in the NCM and CMM suggest that males and females differentially rely on components of the auditory forebrain for processing conspecific song.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12543
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 British Society for Neuroendocrinology


  • Egr-1
  • caudomedial mesopallium
  • caudomedial nidopallium
  • lateralisation
  • nucleus taeniae
  • songbird


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