Examining the disconnect between prolactin and parental care in avian brood parasites.

08:00 EDT 20th March 2020 | BioPortfolio

Summary of "Examining the disconnect between prolactin and parental care in avian brood parasites."

Prolactin is often referred to as the "parental hormone" but there are examples in which prolactin and parental behavior are disconnected. One intriguing example is in avian obligate brood parasites; species exhibiting high circulating prolactin but no parental care. To understand this disconnect, we examined transcriptional and behavioral responses to prolactin in brown-headed (Molothrus ater) and bronzed (M. aeneus) brood parasitic cowbirds. We first examine prolactin-dependent regulation of transcriptome wide gene expression in the preoptic area (POA), a brain region associated with parental care across vertebrates. We next examined prolactin-dependent abundance of seven parental care-related candidate genes in hypothalamic regions that are prolactin-responsive in other avian species. We found no evidence of prolactin sensitivity in cowbirds in either case. To understand this prolactin insensitivity, we compared prolactin receptor transcript abundance between parasitic and non-parasitic species and between prolactin treated and untreated cowbirds. We observed significantly lower prolactin receptor transcript abundance in brown-headed but not bronzed cowbird POA compared to a non-parasite and no prolactin-dependent changes in either parasitic species. Lastly, estrogen-primed female brown-headed cowbirds with or without prolactin treatment exhibited significantly greater avoidance of nestling begging stimuli compared to untreated birds. Taken together, our results suggest that modified prolactin receptor distributions in the POA and surrounding hypothalamic regions disconnect prolactin from parental care in brood parasitic cowbirds. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


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This article was published in the following journal.

Name: Genes, brain, and behavior
ISSN: 1601-183X


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A lactogenic hormone secreted by the adenohypophysis (PITUITARY GLAND, ANTERIOR). It is a polypeptide of approximately 23 kD. Besides its major action on lactation, in some species prolactin exerts effects on reproduction, maternal behavior, fat metabolism, immunomodulation and osmoregulation. Prolactin receptors are present in the mammary gland, hypothalamus, liver, ovary, testis, and prostate.

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