Sexual dimorphism of vocal control nuclei in budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) revealed with Nissl and NADPH-d staining

Steven E. Brauth, Wenru Liang, Stuart K. Amateau, Todd F. Robert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Nissl staining and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate diaphorase (NADPH-d) histochemistry were used to explore the existence of sexual dimorphism in vocal control nuclei of adult budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus), a parrot species capable of lifelong vocal learning. Behavioral studies indicate that adult males possess larger vocal repertoires than adult females and learn new calls more quickly. The results of the present study show that the volumes of all vocal nuclei, as measured using both Nissl-stained and NADPH-d-stained material, as well as the total numbers of NADPH-d neurons, were 35-110% greater in males. Furthermore, all vocal nuclei exhibit conspicuous NADPH-d staining compared to surrounding fields in both adult males and females. Nevertheless, there were no significant gender differences in either the intensity of neuropil staining or the densities of NADPH-d neurons in vocal nuclei. Moreover NADPH-d neuron somal shapes were similar in males and females. Diameters of NADPH-d neurons in vocal nuclei were 8.5-32% larger in males than in females. Greater size of NADPH-d neuronal somata in males may be a general property of this cell type in budgerigars because a similar gender difference was found in a visual nucleus, the entopallium, which is not directly associated with the vocal control system and does not exhibit sexual dimorphism in total volume or total NADPH-d neuron numbers. Taken together, the results of the present study favor the hypothesis that superior lifelong vocal learning ability in male budgerigars rests largely on larger volumes of vocal control nuclei in males rather than on sexual dimorphism in the internal composition of vocal nuclei.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-27
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 28 2005


  • Bird
  • Nitric oxide
  • Parrot
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Vocal learning


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