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     Development of Sex Differences in the Structure and Function of the Song System

Most of our work has used zebra finches, native to the Australian desert.  The primary focus of this work is understanding the  the development of sex differences in brain and behavior.  Males of this species sing to court females, whereas females do not normally sing, and in parallel the brain regions and muscles that control song are larger in males than in females. We are investigating the mechanisms involved in creating the behavioral and anatomical differences between the sexes, including  dimorphic expression of sex chromosome genes and steroid hormone action or availability (including receptors and metabolizing enzymes).  We are particularly interested in potential interactions between the effects of genes and hormones.

We also have a relatively new project on a population of house wrens in southeast Michigan.  These females sing a variety of song types, which are involved in defending against both male and female conspecifics.   We are investigating the relationship between singing behavior and morphology of the neural song circuit during the breeding season.

   Coronal sections of juvenile zebra finch brain, showing the sex difference in the size of one of the song control nuclei (robust nucleus of the arcopallium).  The sex difference is even greater in adults, due primarily to increased cell death in females compared to males.

Female Song (b)

Rhythm Perception

A collaboration with Drs. Devin McAuley and Soo-Eun Chang is combining research in humans and zebra finches to investigate neural responses to rhythm processing.  The goal is to understand the mechanisms associated with stuttering, and eventually to develop potential therapies.

See a feature at MSU Today:  HERE

N I H logo - link to the National Institutes of HealthCurrently funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (R01-MH096705 9/19/12-5/31/18)