In temperate zone songbirds, such as canaries (Serinus canaria), seasonal variation in gonadal activity and behavior are associated with marked brain changes. These include gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) expression and the volume of brain areas controlling song production. Questions have been raised about the consistency of seasonal brain changes in canaries. Laboratory studies of the American singer strain raised doubts as to whether this strain exhibits a robust photoperiodic response along with changes in brain GnRH content, and studies of free-living canaries have failed to identify seasonal changes in volume of song control nuclei. We assessed differences in brain GnRH and the song control system associated with photoperiod-induced variation in reproductive state in Border canaries. We found that males and females maintained for 10 weeks on long days (14L:10D) regress their gonads, exhibit a decline in testosterone and initiate molt; a response consistent with the onset of absolute photorefractoriness (i.e., failed to respond to previously stimulating daylengths). All birds regained photosensitivity (i.e., exhibited gonadal response to stimulating daylengths) after experiencing short days (8L:16D) for 6 weeks. Furthermore, comparisons of birds in either a photosensitive, photostimulated, or photorefractory state revealed a marked increase in GnRH protein expression in the photosensitive and photostimulated birds over photorefractory birds. A similar variation was observed in the volume of key forebrain song nuclei. Thus, Border canaries demonstrate measurable neuroplasticity in response to photoperiodic manipulations. These data, along with previous work on other strains of canaries, indicate the presence of intra-specific variation in photoperiodically regulated neuroplasticity.
- Hormonal plasticity
- Seasonal breeding