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Biol Lett. 2014 Nov;10(11):20140502. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0502.

Glucocorticoid metabolism in the in ovo environment modulates exposure to maternal corticosterone in Japanese quail embryos (Coturnix japonica).

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Department of Biology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837, USA.
School of Integrative Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.
Department of Biology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837, USA


Maternal effects have gained attention as a method by which mothers may alter the physiological condition and phenotype of their offspring based upon current environmental conditions. The physiological and phenotypic outcomes of glucocorticoid-mediated maternal effects have been extensively studied in a variety of vertebrates; however, the underlying mechanism is currently unclear. Here, we injected tritiated corticosterone into the yolks of freshly laid Japanese quail eggs (Coturnix japonica) and traced its movement and metabolism through the in ovo development period. We found that corticosterone was extensively conjugated throughout the egg by the end of development, and while minimal corticosterone was detected within the embryo during development, accumulation of a conjugated metabolite in the embryo started to occur on day 6 of development. Because no movement and metabolism of corticosterone occurred in infertile eggs, our findings suggest that embryos are not passive recipients of maternal steroids, but instead appear to possess extensive metabolic capabilities, which may modulate their exposure to maternal steroids.


corticosterone; development; embryo; glucocorticoid; maternal effect; metabolism

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