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J Comp Physiol B. 1998 Jul;168(5):353-8.

Changes in pituitary and adrenal sensitivities allow the snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), an Arctic-breeding song bird, to modulate corticosterone release seasonally.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Washington, Seattle 98195, USA.


Several free-living avian species have recently been shown to seasonally modulate corticosterone release in response to capture and restraint. We examined possible mechanisms underlying seasonal adrenocortical modulation in snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis), a species that breeds and molts (the energetically costly replacement of feathers) in the Alaskan Arctic Snow buntings dramatically reduced baseline and maximal corticosterone titers during molt compared to the breeding season. This effect is not explained by changes in either corticosterone binding protein capacity or the overall condition of the bird (assessed by weight and fat storage). Although the adrenal's capacity to secrete corticosterone is reduced during molt, adrenal insensitivity does not fully explain reduced maximal output since exogenous adrenocorticotropic-hormone enhanced corticosterone release during both seasons. In contrast, no exogenous adrenocorticotropic hormone releasing factor (corticotrophin-releasing factor, arginine vasotocin or mesotocin) enhanced corticosterone secretion during molt. This suggests that the pituitary's endogenous adrenocorticotropic secretion was maximal in response to capture and handling, making the pituitary an important site regulating corticosterone levels. Taken together, these results indicate that seasonal modulation of corticosterone release in this species is controlled at both the adrenal and pituitary glands.

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