The Timing of Embryonic Exposure to Elevated Temperature Alters Stress Endocrinology in Domestic Chickens (Gallus domesticus)

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Patterns of glucocorticoid (GC) release in response to stimuli vary both among individuals and within individuals across their lifetime. While much work has focused on how the prenatal steroid environment can affect GC release, relatively little is known about how environmental parameters, such as incubation temperature affect GCs. We tested the hypothesis that variation and timing of elevated incubation temperature within the thermoneutral zone can alter the pattern of GC release. We incubated domestic chicken eggs (Gallus domesticus) at the optimal incubation temperature (37.5°C) or at a slightly higher temperature (+1.1°C) either early, late, or throughout incubation. At three weeks post-hatch, all birds were (i) exposed to a capture-restraint stress to measure stress-induced GC release (naive). Three days following the naive stressor, birds were (ii) exposed to a heat challenge, which was followed the next day by a second capture-restraint stress (post-heat challenge). Regardless of treatment, birds had similar patterns of GC release following the naive stress series. However, during the post-heat challenge stress series, birds incubated at optimal temperatures increased their peak GC release. In contrast, birds exposed to slightly elevated temperatures for any period of development failed to increase peak GC release, and their specific response varied with timing of exposure to the elevated incubation temperature. Our results demonstrate that subtle variation in the embryonic environment, such as elevated incubation temperature within the thermoneutral zone, can impact the pattern of GC release of offspring. Further work is needed to understand the mechanisms underlying these changes and the relationship between fitness and environmentally-altered phenotypes.

Copyright 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


General and Comparative Endocrinology



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