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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2008 Apr 1;156(2):426-33. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2007.12.009. Epub 2008 Jan 8.

Activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis differs between behavioral phenotypes in female white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis).

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


The white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) lends itself particularly well to investigations of neuroendocrine mechanisms of social behavior because of a behavioral polymorphism that correlates with a plumage phenotype. Roughly half of the individuals of this species exhibit a white stripe (WS) on the crown and engage in a more aggressive strategy, whereas the other half exhibit a tan stripe (TS) and assume a more parental strategy. These behavioral differences are mirrored by hormonal and neuroendocrine differences; for example, males of the WS morph have higher plasma testosterone than do TS males, and females of the TS morph have higher plasma luteinizing hormone than females of the WS morph. These differences suggest that the regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis may differ according to morph. In this study, we compared HPG axis activity at each level by measuring (1) the number, size, and staining intensity of GnRH immunoreactive (ir) neurons; (2) plasma LH; and (3) plasma estradiol (E2) in females. We found that TS females had more GnRH-ir neurons in the septo-preoptic area of the hypothalamus than did WS females, and GnRH-ir neuronal cell bodies were larger in the WS than the TS females. There was no morph difference in the intensity of GnRH labeling. TS females had higher plasma LH, which is consistent with a previous report, and higher plasma E2. We hypothesize that the differences in GnRH-ir cell number and size are related to differences in LH and E2 secretion, and may be relevant to polymorphic social behavior.

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