Each year the Golden Neuron Award is presented to a Graduate or PhD student of the NSB program, in celebration of an exciting finding within the previous year. The awardee, selected by the NSB community, receives a small gift and a certificate. This year Matheus Macedo-Lima received the award for his work in the Remage-Healey Lab, published in Hormones and Behavior, on the role of estradiol in auditory learning in adult zebra finches. Matheus also successfully defended his dissertation last month via Zoom! Double congratulations to Dr. Macedo-Lima are in order!
Matheus and his advisor, Luke Remage-Healey showed that blocking estradiol production within the auditory cortex impairs learning in a novel sound association task. They also found that the same treatment after learning was completed had no effect. They hope that these findings might inform research on other animals that produce estradiol in their auditory cortex, such as humans.
It might seem that humans and songbirds are almost nothing alike, but both need to learn how to produce sounds of their own species, aka vocal learning. To appropriately vocalize, both humans and songbirds need to master first what the correct sounds are and what they mean. Some neurons in the songbird auditory cortex produce the hormone estradiol (a type of estrogen), which is not a widespread trait in non-vocal learners. What estradiol does in the auditory cortex is not well understood in any species.
Macedo-Lima M, Remage-Healey L (2020): Auditory learning in an operant task with social reinforcement is dependent on neuroestrogen synthesis in the male songbird auditory cortex. Horm Behav 121:104713.