Regulation of free corticosterone and CBG capacity under different environmental conditions in altricial nestlings

Bettina Almasi, Alexandre Roulin, Susanne Jenni-Eiermann, Creagh W. Breuner, Lukas Jenni

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24 Scopus citations


The concentration of circulating glucocorticoids is regulated in response to environmental and endogenous conditions. Total circulating corticosterone, the main glucocorticoid in birds, consists of a fraction which is bound to corticosterone-binding globulins (CBG) and a free fraction. There is increasing evidence that the environment modulates free corticosterone levels through varying the concentration of CBG, but experimental evidence is lacking. To test the hypothesis that the regulation of chronic stress in response to endogenous and environmental conditions involves variation in both corticosterone release and CBG capacity, we performed an experiment with barn owl (Tyto alba) nestlings in two different years with pronounced differences in environmental conditions and in nestlings experimentally fed ad libitum. In half of the individuals we implanted a corticosterone-releasing pellet to artificially increase corticosterone levels and in the other half we implanted a placebo pellet. We then repeatedly collected blood samples to measure the change in total and free corticosterone levels as well as CBG capacity. The increase in circulating total corticosterone after artificial corticosterone administration varied with environmental conditions and with the food regime of the nestlings. The highest total corticosterone levels were found in nestlings growing up in poor environmental conditions and the lowest in ad libitum fed nestlings. CBG was highest in the year with poor environmental conditions, so that, contrary to total corticosterone, free corticosterone levels were low under poor environmental conditions. When nestlings were fed ad libitum total corticosterone, CBG and free corticosterone did not increase when administering corticosterone. These results suggest that depending on the individual history an animal experienced during development the HPA-axis is regulated differently.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-124
Number of pages8
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2009


  • Barn owls (Tyto alba)
  • Corticosterone
  • Corticosterone-binding globulins (CBG)
  • Environmental variation
  • Free corticosterone
  • Stress response regulation


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