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Keywords:

  • transcortin;
  • mineralocorticoid receptor;
  • glucocorticoid receptor;
  • avian

Abstract

A number of studies have demonstrated seasonal regulation of the adrenocortical response to stress, or of corticosteroid binding globulins, but very few studies have examined seasonal regulation of corticosteroid receptor levels. As a result, there have been few attempts to produce an integrated picture of seasonal plasticity of the stress response. We measured baseline and stress-induced corticosterone (CORT), corticosteroid binding globulin and neuronal cytosolic and membrane corticosteroid receptor levels in male and female, wild-caught house sparrows (Passer domesticus) during three different seasons over the annual cycle (nesting, molting and winter). We identified three neuronal corticosteroid receptors in the house sparrow brain: two intracellular receptors and one membrane-associated receptor. Little is known about corticosteroid receptors in neuronal membranes of avian and mammalian species, but we found that the levels of membrane corticosteroid receptors varied seasonally, being lowest during the nesting season. Cytosolic corticosteroid receptor numbers (both low and high affinity receptors) also varied seasonally. In contrast to the membrane bound receptors, however, the numbers of low and high affinity cytosolic receptors were lowest during winter. In addition, mean levels of total basal and stress-induced CORT in the plasma varied seasonally. Both basal and stress-induced levels of total CORT were significantly higher during nesting than during winter or molt. Finally, corticosteroid binding globulin levels in plasma were also seasonally regulated, in a pattern similar to total CORT, so that estimated free CORT levels did not vary between seasons. These data indicate that multiple components of the stress response are seasonally regulated in birds obtained from wild populations. Interactions between these regulated components provide a basis for seasonal differences in behavioural and physiological responses to stress.