Androgens and isolation from adult tutors differentially affect the development of songbird neurons critical to vocal plasticity.
Song learning in oscine birds occurs during a juvenile sensitive period. One idea is that this sensitive period is regulated by changes in the electrophysiological properties of neurons in the telencephalic song nucleus lateral magnocellular nucleus of the anterior neostriatum (LMAN), a structure critical for song development but not adult singing. A corollary of this idea is that manipulations affecting the pace and quality of song learning will concomitantly affect the development of LMAN's electrophysiological properties. Manipulations known to affect song development include treating juvenile male zebra finches with exogenous androgens, which results in abnormally truncated adult songs, and isolation of the juvenile from adult tutors and their songs, which extends the sensitive period for song learning. Previously, we showed that synaptic transmission in LMAN changes over normal song development and that these changes are accelerated or retarded, respectively, by androgen treatment and isolation from an adult tutor. The intrinsic properties of LMAN neurons afford another potential target for regulation by steroid hormones and experience of adult tutors. Indeed previous studies showed that the capacity for LMAN neurons to fire action potentials in bursts, due to a low-threshold calcium spike, and the width of single action potentials in LMAN, wane over development. Here we analyzed these and other intrinsic electrophysiological features of LMAN neurons over normal development, then tested whether either early androgen treatment or isolating juveniles from adult tutors affected the timing of these changes. The present study shows that androgen but not isolation treatment alters the developmental time at which LMAN neurons progress from the bursting to nonbursting phenotype. In addition, other intrinsic properties, including the half-height spike width and the magnitude of the spike afterhyperpolarization (AHP), were found to change markedly over development but only changes to the AHP were androgen sensitive. Interestingly of all of the synaptic and intrinsic electrophysiological properties in LMAN studied to date, only the half-height spike width continues to change in the late juvenile stages of song learning. Furthermore raising juveniles in isolation from an adult tutor transiently delays the maturation of this property. The present results underscore that beyond their effects on LMAN's synaptic properties, both androgens and adult tutor experience are potent and selective regulators of the intrinsic properties of LMAN neurons.
Livingston, FS; Mooney, R
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