Experience modulates both aromatase activity and the sensitivity of agonistic behaviour to testosterone in black-headed gulls

Albert F. H. Ros, Aldina M. A. Franco, Ton G. G. Groothuis

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In young black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus), exposure to testosterone increases the sensitivity of agonistic behaviour to a subsequent exposure to this hormone. The aim of this paper is twofold: to analyze whether social experience, gained during testosterone exposure, mediates this increase in hormonal sensitivity (priming), and whether this in turn is mediated by an increase in central aromatase activity. To this end, we performed three experiments. In the first juvenile gulls were exposed to two consecutive treatments with testosterone (T1 and T2), with more than a week interval in between. During T1, half of the birds were housed in social isolation (Iso) and the other half in groups (Soc). All birds were re-housed in a new social situation during the second treatment. The increase in social behaviour during T2 was significantly more rapid in Soc than Iso birds. In experiment 2 we show that 17ß-estradiol treatment facilitates the behaviour measured in experiment 1. In experiment 3 we used a set-up comparable with that of experiment 1, but birds were sacrificed early in the T2 period. Aromatase activity in the preoptic area and the hypothalamus was measured using the tritiated water releasing method. In some parts of the preoptic area and hypothalamus aromatase activity was higher in Soc birds relative to Iso birds. The results indicate that social experience can modulate the increase of social behaviour to testosterone via modulation of aromatase activity and independently of actual hormone levels.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-35
Number of pages6
JournalPhysiology & Behavior
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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