Long-lasting and sex-specific consequences of elevated egg yolk testosterone for social behavior in Japanese quail

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Cécile Schweitzer, Michael H. Goldstein, Ned J. Place, Elizabeth Adkins-Regan
Hormones and Behavior
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In birds, early exposure to steroid hormones deposited in egg yolks is hypothesized to result in long-lasting effects on brain and behavior. However, the long-term effects of maternal androgens on the development of social behavior, and whether these could interfere with the effects of the endogenous gonadal hormones that mediate sexual differentiation, remain poorly known. To answer these questions, we enhanced yolk testosterone by injecting testosterone (T) in oil into Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) eggs prior to incubation. Vehicle-injected (V) eggs served as controls. From age 3 weeks to 8 weeks, sexual development was measured using morphological and physiological traits, and social behavior was measured, including male-typical sexual behavior. In females, treatment with testosterone boosted growth. Males from T-injected eggs developed an affiliative preference for familiar females and differed from V-injected males in the acoustic features of their crows, whereas sexual interest (looking behavior) and copulatory behavior were not affected. These long-lasting and sex-specific yolk testosterone effects on the development of dimorphic traits, but without disrupting sexual differentiation of reproductive behavior suggest potential organizational effects of maternal testosterone, but acting through separate processes than the endocrine mechanisms previously shown to control sexual differentiation. Separate processes could reflect the action of androgens at different times or on multiple targets that are differentially sensitive to steroids or develop at different rates.


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