The timing of thyroid-dependent programming in seasonally breeding male American tree sparrows (Spizella arborea).

Research paper by F E FE Wilson, B D BD Reinert

Indexed on: 01 Jul '96Published on: 01 Jul '96Published in: General and Comparative Endocrinology


There is convincing evidence that euthyroid male American tree sparrows are already programmed for seasonal reproduction and postnuptial molt by Week 4 of photostimulation. To explore more precisely when, during early photostimulation, thyroid-dependent programming of seasonal events occurs, photosensitive male tree sparrows were radiothyroidectomized or sham thyroidectomized on the first day of photostimulation (Week 0) or at Weeks 1 or 3 thereafter. Birds were monitored for testicular growth and regression over 8 or 12 weeks and then tested for photosensitivity or photorefractoriness by exposing them to constant light and exogenous L-thyroxine for 4 weeks. Molt of the primary flight feathers was scored periodically, and at the end of the experiment, hypothalami were saved for cGnRH-I (chicken gonadotropin-releasing hormone I) assay. Because (1) the thyroid is already dysfunctional by Day 4 after radiothyroidectomy, (2) thyroid-dependent photoinduced gonadal growth is programmed growth, and as demonstrated here, (3) testis length at Week 6 on long days (i.e., maximum or near-maximum testis size) is independent of the time of thyroidectomy at or after the onset of photostimulation, we conclude that male American tree sparrows were programmed for photoperiodic testicular growth during the first week of photostimulation. Based on measurements of testis length and hypothalamic cGnRH-I content, only 2 of 11 birds thyroidectomized at Week 1 were already programmed for photorefractoriness by Week 1, whereas all birds thyroidectomized at Week 3 were so programmed by Week 3. Marked differences in molt scores between photorefractory (thyroidectomized and euthyroid) and photosensitive (thyroidectomized) birds argue that postnuptial molt also was programmed roughly between Weeks 1 and 3. To explain these results, we ascribe organizational-like actions directly or indirectly to endogenous thyroid hormones and argue that the onset of photostimulation opens a window, during which time euthyroid male American tree sparrows are programmed for seasonality. A clear dissociation of photorefractoriness from photoperiodic testicular growth in birds thyroidectomized at Week 1 suggests that separate control circuits mediate these two annually periodic events.