[en] The aromatization of testosterone into oestrogens plays a key role in the control of many behavioural and physiological aspects of reproduction. In the quail preoptic area (POA), aromatase activity and the number of aromatase-immunoreactive (ARO-ir) cells are sexually differentiated (males > females). This sex difference is implicated in the control of the sexually dimorphic behavioural response of quail to testosterone. We analysed the ontogenetic development of this sex difference by measuring aromatase activity and counting ARO-ir cells in the POA of males and females from day 1 post hatch to sexual maturity. We investigated in parallel another enzyme: tyrosine hydroxylase, the rate limiting step in catecholamine synthesis. Between hatching and 4 weeks of age, aromatase activity levels were low and equal in males and females. Aromatase activity then markedly increased in both sexes when subjects initiated their sexual maturation but this increase was more pronounced in males so that a marked difference in aromatase activity was present in 6 and 8 week-old subjects. Tyrosine hydroxylase activity progressively increased with age starting immediately after hatching and there was no abrupt modification in the slope of this increase when birds became sexually mature. No sex difference was detected in the activity of this enzyme. The number of ARO-ir cells in the POA progressively increased with age starting at hatching. No sex difference in ARO-ir cell numbers could be detected before subjects reached full sexual maturity. The analysis of the three-dimensional organization of ARO-ir cells in the POA revealed that, with increasing ages, ARO-ir cells acquire a progressively more lateral position: they are largely periventricular in young birds but they are found at higher density in the lateral part of the medial preoptic nucleus in adults. These data indicate that aromatase activity differentiates sexually when birds reach sexual maturity presumably under the activating effects of the increased testosterone levels in males. The number of ARO-ir cells, however, begins to increase in a non sexually differentiated manner before the rise in plasma testosterone in parallel with the increased tyrosine hydroxylase activity. Whether this temporal coincidence results from a general ontogenetic pattern or from more direct causal links remains to be established.