Patterns of FOS protein induction in singing female starlings

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Females of many songbird species produce song, but information about the neural correlates of singing behavior is limited in this sex. Although well studied in males, activity in premotor song control regions and social behavior regions has not been examined in females during song production. Here, we examined the immediate early gene protein product FOS in both song control and social behavior brain regions after female starlings defending nest boxes responded to an unfamiliar female in a naturalistic setting. We found that females that sang in response to the intruder had much higher numbers of fos-immunoreactive neurons (fos-ir) in the vocal control regions HVC, the robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA), and the dorsomedial part of the nucleus intercollicularis (DM of the ICo). In HVC, fos-ir correlated positively with song length. In RA, DM and Area X, fos-ir correlated positively with number of songs produced. In social behavior regions, singers showed higher fos-ir in the nucleus taeniae of the amygdala, the dorsal part of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and the ventromedial hypothalamus than non-singers. Overall, patterns of fos-ir in song control regions in females were similar to those reported for males, but differences in fos-ir were identified in social behavior regions. These differences may reflect a distinct role for brain regions involved in social behavior in female song, or they may reflect differences in the social function of female and male song.


▸ Little is known about the neural correlates of female song production.


▸ Female starlings show fos-ir in song control regions after singing.


▸ Brain regions implicated in social behavior also show fos-ir related to song.


▸ Patterns of fos-ir in social brain regions differ from those in song control regions.

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