Food, Stress, and Reproduction: Short-Term Fasting Alters Endocrine Physiology and Reproductive Behavior in the Zebra Finch

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Stress is thought to be a potent suppressor of reproduction. However, the vast majority of studies focus on the relationship between chronic stress and reproductive suppression, despite the fact that chronic stress is rare in the wild. We investigated the role of fasting in altering acute stress physiology, reproductive physiology, and reproductive behavior of male zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) with several goals in mind. First, we wanted to determine if acute fasting could stimulate an increase in plasma corticosterone and a decrease in corticosteroid binding globulin (CBG) and testosterone. We then investigated whether fasting could alter expression of undirected song and courtship behavior. After subjecting males to fasting periods ranging from 1 to 10. h, we collected plasma to measure corticosterone, CBG, and testosterone. We found that plasma corticosterone was elevated, and testosterone was decreased after 4, 6, and 10. h of fasting periods compared with samples collected from the same males during nonfasted (control) periods. CBG was lower than control levels only after 10. h of fasting. We also found that, coincident with these endocrine changes, males sang less and courted females less vigorously following short-term fasting relative to control conditions. Our data demonstrate that acute fasting resulted in rapid changes in endocrine physiology consistent with hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis activation and hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis deactivation. Fasting also inhibited reproductive behavior. We suggest that zebra finches exhibit physiological and behavioral flexibility that makes them an excellent model system for studying interactions of acute stress and reproduction. © 2010 Elsevier Inc.


Acute stress, Corticosteroid binding globulin, Corticosterone, Fasting, Reproductive behavior, Testosterone, Zebra finch

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