Peripheral auditory processing changes seasonally in Gambel’s white-crowned sparrow

Abstract

Song in oscine birds is a learned behavior that plays important roles in breeding. Pronounced seasonal differences in song behavior and in the morphology and physiology of the neural circuit underlying song production are well documented in many songbird species. Androgenic and estrogenic hormones largely mediate these seasonal changes. Although much work has focused on the hormonal mechanisms underlying seasonal plasticity in songbird vocal production, relatively less work has investigated seasonal and hormonal effects on songbird auditory processing, particularly at a peripheral level. We addressed this issue in Gambel’s white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii), a highly seasonal breeder. Photoperiod and hormone levels were manipulated in the laboratory to simulate natural breeding and non-breeding conditions. Peripheral auditory function was assessed by measuring the auditory brainstem response (ABR) and distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs) of males and females in both conditions. Birds exposed to breeding-like conditions demonstrated elevated thresholds and prolonged peak latencies when compared with birds housed under non-breeding-like conditions. There were no changes in DPOAEs, however, which indicates that the seasonal differences in ABRs do not arise from changes in hair cell function. These results suggest that seasons and hormones impact auditory processing as well as vocal production in wild songbirds.

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Abbreviations

ABR:

Auditory brainstem response

AR:

Androgen receptor

DPOAE:

Distortion product otoacoustic emission

ER:

Estrogen receptor

F1:

First primary tone

F2:

Second primary tone

LD:

Long day

L1:

Level of the first primary tone

L2:

Level of the second primary tone

NCM:

Caudomedial nidopallium

Q :

Quality factor

SD:

Short day

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Acknowledgments

We thank Brandon Warren, Karin Lent, and Mike Famulare for technical assistance, Kristen Richards Preble for animal care, Jason Sanchez for threshold verification, and members of the Brenowitz and Rubel laboratories for constructive discussion and support. This work was supported by the NIH/NIDCD Grants DC000033, DC003829, DC004661, the Seattle Chapter of Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation (MLC), and the Washington Research Foundation (MLC). All procedures were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at the University of Washington, Seattle.

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Correspondence to Edwin W. Rubel.

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Caras, M.L., Brenowitz, E. & Rubel, E.W. Peripheral auditory processing changes seasonally in Gambel’s white-crowned sparrow. J Comp Physiol A 196, 581–599 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-010-0545-1

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Keywords

  • Songbird
  • Hormone
  • Season
  • Auditory
  • ABR