Meeting Abstract

P2.149  Thursday, Jan. 5  Estradiol and reproductive state affect song pattern recognition and performance in a songbird CALISI, RM*; KNUDSEN, D; KRAUSE, J; WINGFIELD, JC; GENTNER, TQ; Univ. of California, Davis; Univ. of California, San Diego; Univ. of California, Davis; Univ. of California, Davis; Univ. of California, San Diego

While a great deal of our vocabulary is acquired early in life, we continue to acquire new words and string together new phrases throughout adulthood. This trait is not entirely unique to humans. Many species of songbirds are “open-ended learners,” meaning their repertoire size increases with age as opposed to crystallizing during development. Previous research suggests an important role for estrogens in verbal memory. To begin to better understand the functional significance of this phenomenon, we asked, 1) can circulating concentrations of estradiol in the body, or lack thereof, affect a bird’s ability to recognize and behaviorally respond to novel song patterns, as encountered naturally in the wild, and 2) does this change according to the reproductive state of the bird. European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are seasonally breeding, open-ended learners that can be trained to recognize and respond to new song patterns. We measured the latency of birds to learn and respond to new song patterns under estradiol treatment during three main stages of reproductive activity: the breeding period, characterized by high concentrations of estradiol, the non-breeding period and the transitional phase between the two, both characterized by low estradiol concentrations. In addition, we treated birds with fadrozole, an aromatase inhibitor that suppresses circulating estradiol concentrations. Understanding how these hormonal changes affect the recognition of novel song patterns in birds can shed light upon not only song pattern processing in the avian brain, but present a model for how endocrine changes can modulate human language development.