[en] Behavioral neuroendocrinology has largely relied on mammalian models to understand the relationship between hormones and behavior, even if this discipline has historically used a larger diversity of species than other fields. Recent advances revealed the potential of avian models in elucidating the neuroendocrine bases of behavior. This paper provides a review focused mainly on the contributions of our laboratory to the study of sexual differentiation in Japanese quail and songbirds. Quail studies have firmly established the role of embryonic estrogens in the sexual differentiation of male copulatory behavior. While most sexually differentiated features identified in brain structure and physiology result from the different endocrine milieu of adults, a few characteristics are organized by embryonic estrogens. Among them, a sex difference was identified in the number and morphology of microglia which is not associated with sex differences in the concentration/expression of neuroinflammatory molecules. The behavioral role of microglia and neuroinflammatory processes requires further investigations. Sexual differentiation of singing in zebra finches is not mediated by the same endocrine mechanisms as male copulatory behavior and "direct" genetic effect, i.e., not mediated by gonadal steroids have been identified. Epigenetic contributions have also been considered. Finally sex differences in specific aspects of singing behavior have been identified in canaries after treatment of adults with exogenous testosterone suggesting that these aspects of song are differentiated during ontogeny. Integration of quail and songbirds as alternative models has thus expanded understanding of the interplay between hormones and behavior in the control of sexual differentiation.
Funding text :
Research from our laboratory described in this review was financially supported over the years by a grant from the NIMH (Grant RO1-MH50388 ) and a grant from the NINDS Grant RO1NS104008 along with more recent grants from F.R.S.-FNRS ( CDR J.0142.17 ) and Special Funds for Research from ULiège ( FSR-16/14 ; FSR-S-SS-22/44 ). C.A.C. is F.R.S.-FNRS Research Director.