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      Embryonic exposure to corticosterone modifies aggressive behavior through alterations of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and the serotonergic system in the chicken.

      Hormones and Behavior

      Aggression, drug effects, physiology, Animals, Behavior, Animal, Chick Embryo, Chickens, Corticosterone, blood, pharmacology, Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone, genetics, metabolism, Gene Expression, Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System, physiopathology, Hypothalamus, Pituitary-Adrenal System, Receptors, Glucocorticoid, Serotonin, Vasotocin

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          Exposure to excess glucocorticoids (GCs) during embryonic development influences offspring phenotypes and behaviors and induces epigenetic modifications of the genes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and in the serotonergic system in mammals. Whether prenatal corticosterone (CORT) exposure causes similar effects in avian species is less clear. In this study, we injected low (0.2μg) and high (1μg) doses of CORT into developing embryos on day 11 of incubation (E11) and tested the changes in aggressive behavior and hypothalamic gene expression on posthatch chickens of different ages. In ovo administration of high dose CORT significantly suppressed the growth rate from 3weeks of age and increased the frequency of aggressive behaviors, and the dosage was associated with elevated plasma CORT concentrations and significantly downregulated hypothalamic expression of arginine vasotocin (AVT) and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). The hypothalamic content of glucocorticoid receptor (GR) protein was significantly decreased in the high dose group (p<0.05), whereas no changes were observed for GR mRNA. High dose CORT exposure significantly increased platelet serotonin (5-HT) uptake, decreased whole blood 5-HT concentration (p<0.05), downregulated hypothalamic tryptophan hydroxylase 1 (TPH1) mRNA and upregulated 5-HT receptor 1A (5-HTR1A) and monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) mRNA, but not monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B). High dose CORT also significantly increased DNA methylation of the hypothalamic GR and CRH gene promoters (p<0.05). Our findings suggest that embryonic exposure to CORT programs aggressive behavior in the chicken through alterations of the HPA axis and the serotonergic system, which may involve modifications in DNA methylation. Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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