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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2000 Dec;120(3):289-99.

Plasma steroid-binding globulin mediation of differences in stress reactivity in alternative male phenotypes in tree lizards, Urosaurus ornatus.

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Department of Biology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-1501, USA.


Plasma steroid-binding globulins, for example, corticosteroid-binding globulin and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), have been identified in a number of vertebrates. One possible function of these proteins is to regulate the amount of steroid delivery to target tissues, as only free steroids are believed to diffuse from the circulation to target cells. Male tree lizards, Urosaurus ornatus, exhibit alternative male reproductive tactics correlated with dewlap (throat-fan) coloration. Males with orange-blue dewlaps are aggressive and territorial, whereas males with orange dewlaps are less aggressive and employ a satellite strategy. The two types of males have similar basal levels of total plasma corticosterone and testosterone. However, testosterone levels of nonterritorial males are more sensitive than those of territorial males to negative regulation by stress-induced increases in corticosterone. We tested the hypothesis that this difference in corticosterone feedback on testosterone could be mediated, in part, by differences in binding globulin levels between the two types of males. We have identified two steroid-binding globulins in male tree lizards. The first binds androgens and estradiol with high affinity (10(-9) M) and is similar to previously described sex hormone-binding globulins. The second binds both androgens and C(21) steroids, such as progesterone and corticosterone, with higher specificity than estradiol and is best described as an androgen-glucocorticoid-binding globulin (AGBG). In both types of males, the capacity of AGBG is much higher than SHBG. In addition, AGBG capacity is significantly greater in territorial than nonterritorial males, whereas the capacity of SHBG does not differ between the two types of males. Calculations of free steroid levels based on the affinity and capacity measures suggest that although most testosterone circulates bound to binding globulins, binding capacity is high enough that binding globulins are also able to bind to other steroids such as corticosterone. Thus, differences in binding capacity between the two types of males could result in higher levels of free corticosterone in nonterritorial males than in territorial males, especially during stress-induced increases in corticosterone, and may explain why testosterone levels of nonterritorial males are more sensitive to negative feedback by corticosterone.

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