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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2013 Dec 1;194:230-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2013.09.015. Epub 2013 Oct 1.

Sources of variation in HPG axis reactivity and individually consistent elevation of sex steroids in a female songbird.

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Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA. Electronic address:


Understanding sources of individual differences in steroid hormone production has important implications for the evolution of reproductive and social behaviors. In females in particular, little is known about the mechanistic sources of these individual differences, despite established linkages between sex steroids and a variety of fitness-related traits. Using captive female dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) from two subspecies, we asked how variation in different components of the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis related to variation in testosterone production among females, and we compared females to males in multiple components of the HPG axis. We demonstrated consistent individual differences in testosterone elevation in response to challenges with luteinizing hormone (LH) and gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). These hormone challenges led to more LH production but less testosterone production in females than males, and the sexes differed in some but not all measures of sensitivity to hormones along the HPG axis. Similar to findings in males, variation in testosterone production among females was not related to variation in LH production, gonadal LH-receptor mRNA abundance, or hypothalamic abundance of androgen receptor mRNA or aromatase mRNA. Rather, the primary source of individual variation in circulating steroids appears to the gonad, a conclusion further supported by positive correlations between testosterone and estradiol production. Unlike males, females did not differ by subspecies in any of the endocrine parameters that we assessed, suggesting some degree of independent evolution between the two sexes. Our results highlight the sources of physiological variation that may underlie the evolution of hormone-mediated phenotypes in females.


Estrogen; Hypothalamo-pituitary–gonadal axis; Individual differences; Testosterone

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