Melatonin binding in the house sparrow song control system: Sexual dimorphism and the effect of photoperiod

Melissa G. Whitfield-Rucker, Vincent M. Cassone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Avian song is a sexually dimorphic behavior which is regulated seasonally. This regulation involves the construction and growth of song control structures: the high vocal center (HVC), nucleus robustus archistrialis (RA), nucleus magnocellularis anterior (MAN), and Area X. Song behavior and its neural correlates are controlled by steroid-dependent and independent processes. The avian circadian system is known to be involved in both daily processes and seasonal reproduction. A major part of this system is the circadian secretion of melatonin by the pineal gland. To determine possible interactions of the circadian and song control systems, the distribution and density of 2-[125I]iodomelatonin (IMEL) binding, an indicator of melatonin sensitivity, were determined in male and female house sparrow brains. Specific binding was found in visual system centers of both genders, but binding in HVC, RA, and Area X was present only in males. Binding in MAN was present in both sexes. Although the effects of short and long photoperiods on male house sparrow IMEL binding in song structures revealed no systematic changes, there were significant differences in binding under different photoperiods in HVC and RA. IMEL binding in the tectofugal nucleus rotundus, however, was consistently highest under short day conditions. IMEL binding in song control nuclei was independent of testicular influence, since castration did not affect it significantly. The data point to a role for the circadian system of house sparrows in song control, but a specific role for melatonin in the daily or seasonal regulation of the song control system in birds, could not be determined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)528-537
Number of pages10
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1996

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by AFOSR 90-NL-0244.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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