Evidence that artificial light at night induces structure-specific changes in brain plasticity in a diurnal bird

Stan Moaraf, Rachel Heiblum, Monika Okuliarová, Abraham Hefetz, Inon Scharf, Michal Zeman, Anat Barnea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We recently reported that artificial light at night (ALAN), at ecologically relevant intensities (1.5, 5 lux), increases cell proliferation in the ventricular zone and recruitment of new neurons in several forebrain regions of female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), along with a decrease of total neuronal densities in some of these regions (indicating possible neuronal death). In the present study, we exposed male zebra finches to the same ALAN intensities, treated them with 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine, quantified cell proliferation and neuronal recruitment in several forebrain regions, and compared them to controls that were kept under dark nights. ALAN increased cell proliferation in the ventricular zone, similar to our previous findings in females. We also found, for the first time, that ALAN increased new neuronal recruitment in HVC and Area X, which are part of the song system in the brain and are male-specific. In other brain regions, such as the medial striatum, nidopallium caudale, and hippocampus, we recorded an increased neuronal recruitment only in the medial striatum (unlike our previous findings in females), and relative to the controls this increase was less prominent than in females. Moreover, the effect of ALAN duration on total neuronal densities in the studied regions varied between the sexes, supporting the suggestion that males are more resilient to ALAN than females. Suppression of nocturnal melatonin levels after ALAN exhibited a light intensity-dependent decrease in males in contrast to females, another indication that males might be less affected by ALAN. Taken together, our study emphasizes the importance of studying both sexes when considering ALAN effects on brain plasticity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1069
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Artificial light at night (ALAN)
  • Birds
  • Brain plasticity
  • Cell proliferation
  • Melatonin
  • New neuronal recruitment
  • Sex-differences
  • Zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata)


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