Elevated Progesterone In Yolk As a Moderator of Prenatal and Postnatal Auditory Learning in Bobwhite Quail

Joshua Anthony Herrington, Florida International University

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Abstract

Recent studies have established that yolk hormones of maternal origin have significant effects on the physiology and behavior of offspring in birds. Herrington (2012) demonstrated that an elevation of progesterone in yolk elevates emotional reactivity in bobwhite quail neonates. Chicks that hatched from progesterone treated eggs displayed increased latency in tonic immobility and did not emerge as quickly from a covered location into an open field compared to control groups. For the present study, three experimental groups were formed: chicks hatched from eggs with artificially elevated progesterone (P), chicks hatched from an oil-vehicle control group (V), and chicks hatched from a non-manipulated control group (C). Experiment 1 examined levels of progesterone with High Performance Liquid Chromatography/tandem Mass Spectroscopy (HPLC/MS) from prenatal day 1 to prenatal day 17 in bobwhite quail egg yolk. In Experiment 2, bobwhite quail embryos were passively exposed to an individual maternal assembly call for 24 hours prior to hatching. Chicks were then tested individually for their preference between the familiarized call and a novel call at 24 and 48 hours following hatching. For Experiment 3, newly hatched chicks were exposed to an individual maternal assembly call for 24-hrs. Chicks were then tested for their preference for the familiarized call at 24 and 48-hrs after hatch. Results of Experiment 1 showed that yolk progesterone levels were significantly elevated in treated eggs and were present in the egg yolk longer into prenatal development than the two control groups. Results from Experiment 2 indicated that chicks from the P group failed to demonstrate a preference for the familiar bobwhite maternal assembly call at 24 or 48-hrs after hatch following 24-hrs of prenatal exposure. In contrast, chicks from the C and V groups demonstrated a significant preference for the familiarized call. In Experiment 3, chicks from the P group showed an enhanced preference for the familiarized bobwhite maternal call compared to chicks from the C and V groups at 24 and 48-hrs after hatch. The results of these experiments suggest that elevated maternal yolk hormone levels in pre-incubated bobwhite quail eggs can influence auditory perceptual learning in embryos and neonates.