CIE Spotlight: Sex steroid profiles in zebra finches: Effects of reproductive state and domestication

Ondi C. & Kate B.

Authors: Prior, Nora H.; Yap, Kang Nian; Mainwaring, Mark C.; Adomat, Hans H.; Crino, Ondi L.; Ma, Chunqi; Guns, Emma S.; Griffith, Simon C.; Buchanan, Katherine L.; Soma, Kiran K.


Brief summary of the paper: The zebra finch is a common model organism in neuroscience, endocrinology, and ethology. Zebra finches are generally considered opportunistic breeders, but the extent of their opportunism depends on the predictability of their habitat. This plasticity in the timing of breeding raises the question of how domestication, a process that increases environmental predictability, has affected their reproductive physiology.

Here, we compared circulating steroid levels in various “strains” of zebra finches. In Study 1, using radioimmunoassay, we examined circulating testosterone levels in several strains of zebra finches (males and females). Subjects were wild or captive (Captive Wild-Caught, Wild-Derived, or Domesticated). In Study 2, using liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS), we examined circulating sex steroid profiles in wild and domesticated zebra finches (males and females).

In Study 1, circulating testosterone levels in males differed across strains. In Study 2, six steroids were detectable in plasma from wild zebra finches (pregnenolone, progesterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), testosterone, androsterone, and 5α-dihydrotestosterone (5α-DHT)). Only pregnenolone and progesterone levels changed across reproductive states in wild finches. Compared to wild zebra finches, domesticated zebra finches had elevated levels of circulating pregnenolone, progesterone, DHEA, testosterone, androstenedione, and androsterone.

These data suggest that domestication has profoundly altered the endocrinology of this common model organism. These results have implications for interpreting studies of domesticated zebra finches, as well as studies of other domesticated species.