New neurons are incorporated into the high vocal center (HVC), a nucleus of the adult canary (Serinus canaria) brain that plays a critical role in the acquisition and production of learned song. Recruitment of new neurons in the HVC is seasonally regulated and depends upon testosterone levels. We show here that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is present in the HVC of adult males but is not detectable in that of females, though the HVC of both sexes has BDNF receptors (TrkB). Testosterone treatment increases the levels of BDNF protein in the female HVC, and BDNF infused into the HVC of adult females triples the number of new neurons. Infusion of a neutralizing antibody to BDNF blocks the testosterone-induced increase in new neurons. Our results demonstrate that BDNF is involved in the regulation of neuronal replacement in the adult canary brain and suggest that the effects of testosterone are mediated through BDNF.
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