Date of Thesis



Maternal effects are a mother¿s non-genetic contributions to development that alter phenotypic traits in offspring. Maternal effects can take the form of prenatal allocation of resources, such as the deposition of androgens into egg yolks. For example, elevated yolk testosterone increases male sexual behaviors such as copulation solicitation and courtship displays in some avian species, in addition to aggressive behaviors like pecks and intimidating postures towards same-sex competitors. However, the mechanism connecting in ovo testosterone exposure with changes in sexual and aggressive behaviors has yet to be elucidated. While testosterone released by the gonads is important in the activation of sexual behaviors, it must undergo conversion to estrogen by the enzyme aromatase in the pre-optic area (POA) of the avian brain for full expression of sexual activity. POA aromatase is also necessary for the activation of aggressive behaviors in male birds. This experiment tested the hypothesis that elevated yolk testosterone leads to changes in POA aromatase activity and levels of gonadal testosterone, as these two endocrine parameters may mediate the effect of yolk testosterone on the frequency of sexual and aggressive behaviors. The effect of elevated yolk testosterone on gonadal testosterone levels and aromatase activity in the POA of 3-day-old domestic chickens Gallus gallus domesticus was investigated. Unincubated eggs were injected with either 10 ng testosterone in 50 ¿L sesame oil (¿T chicks¿) or 50 ¿L sesame oil (¿C chicks¿). At 3 days post-hatch, gonadal testosterone content was measured after steroid extraction using an EIA, and aromatase activity in the POA was quantified by measuring the production of tritiated water from [1ß-3H]-androstenedione. I predicted that gonadal testosterone levels and brain aromatase activity would be higher in T chicks, however found no difference between treatments. Though juvenile T production peaks at 3 days post-hatch, it is possible that the reproductive systems, including the testes and POA, are not fully developed at this time.


Maternal effects, endocrinology, steroids, aromatase, avian

Access Type

Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Bachelor of Science



First Advisor

Morgan Benowitz-Fredericks