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Horm Behav. 2005 Feb;47(2):185-94. Epub 2004 Dec 15.

Enhanced yolk testosterone influences behavioral phenotype independent of sex in Japanese quail chicks Coturnix japonica.

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Konrad Lorenz Forschungsstelle, Grünau im Almtal 11, A-4645, Austria.


Studies have demonstrated an effect of yolk testosterone levels on the physiology and behavior of nestling birds. In order to investigate this phenomenon experimentally in a precocial bird, we enhanced yolk testosterone, but within the physiological range, by injecting 50 ng testosterone in ethanol into Japanese quail Coturnix japonica eggs prior to incubation. The chicks hatching from these as well as from control eggs that had received the carrier-only or were left unmanipulated were subject to a number of behavioral tests from hatching to the age of 3 weeks. In addition, fecal samples were taken during a 90-min isolation period to determine a physiological response to a stressor. Experimental chicks performed a detour task faster and approached novel objects sooner than did the controls. Chicks from treated eggs took a longer time to start distress vocalizing and also produced less distress calls during open-field trials, took on average a larger number of trials for them to show tonic immobility and also excreted lower levels of corticosterone metabolites (BM) than did the controls. In response to a stressor, excreted BM was initially higher in the control chicks, as compared to the experimental birds. Induced behavioral effects were independent of sex with no sex treatment interactions found. In sum, experimentally enhanced testosterone levels in the eggs shifted individual behavioral phenotype towards "bold" or "proactive", irrespective of sex. We conclude that testosterone in the yolk influences the coping style of hatchlings and may be a potential means of maternal influence on offspring phenotype.

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