Date of Award

Summer 8-7-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Neuroscience Institute

First Advisor

Laura L. Carruth

Second Advisor

Timothy Bartness

Third Advisor

Andrew Clancy

Fourth Advisor

Matthew Grober

Fifth Advisor

Donna Maney


Stress has long lasting effects on physiology, development, behavior, reproductive success and survival. These effects are mediated by glucocorticoids, such as corticosterone (Cort), via glucocorticoid receptors (GR), though the exact mechanisms underlying these effects are unknown. Early developmental stress affects the size of the avian song control nuclei (particularly HVC; proper name) and song quality in many songbirds, suggesting a direct link between brain and behavior. HVC is required for song learning and production. The complexity of the male zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) courtship song is important in female mate choice. Although the mechanisms behind the effects of developmental stress on song nuclei size and song quality are unknown, it is likely that elevated levels of Cort via GR within brain song nuclei play a significant role. We investigated the distribution, quantity, and subcellular-localization of GR- immunoreactive (GR-ir) neurons in the brains of male zebra finches 10 days post-hatch and in adulthood using immunohistochemistry. There was wide distribution of GR-ir neurons including two song nuclei HVC and robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA). Distribution did not vary between the two ages but there were significant differences in the overall number of GR-ir neurons and their subcellular localization. We hypothesized that early Cort treatment would reduce song quality and HVC size in adult males. We inserted Cort implants in males at four days post-hatch and quantified the effects of early Cort treatment on adult song quality. Early Cort treatment decreased song similarity between the tutor and tutee’s songs and resulted in poorer copies of tutor song, but did not alter mean amplitude or song duration. Early Cort treatment reduced the HVC size in both juvenile and adult birds. This result suggests that the effect of developmental stress on the HVC size may be mediated through Cort via activation of GR within HVC as a mechanism by which HVC size and song quality are altered in developmentally stressed birds. These results suggest a potential role for Cort in mediating adverse effects of developmental stress in adult male zebra finches and highlight the developmental plasticity of the zebra finch brain.


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