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Increased yolk testosterone facilitates prenatal perceptual learning in Northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus)

Abstract : Prenatal learning plays an important role in the ontogeny of behavior and birds provide a useful model to explore whether and how prenatal exposure to hormones of maternal origin can influence prenatal learning and the development of behavior. In this study we assessed if prenatal exposure to yolk testosterone can influence auditory learning in embryos of Northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus). We experimentally enhanced testosterone concentrations in bobwhite quail eggs prior to incubation. The embryos from these T-treated eggs as well as control embryos that had received the vehicle-only or were non-treated were exposed to an individual bobwhite hen's maternal call for 120 min over the course of the day prior to hatching. All chicks were tested at 24 h following hatching for their auditory preference between the familiar bobwhite maternal call versus an unfamiliar bobwhite maternal call. T-treated chicks spent significantly more time in proximity to the familiar call compared to the unfamiliar call and also showed shorter latencies to approach the familiar call than control birds. Increased emotional reactivity, i.e. propensity to express fear responses, was also found in T-treated chicks. Baseline heart rates recorded in a second group of T-treated embryos and control embryos did not differ, which suggests no effect of yolk testosterone on baseline arousal level. To our knowledge this is the first demonstration of the influence of prenatal exposure to testosterone on auditory learning.
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Aline Bertin, Marie-Annick Richard-Yris, Erich Möstl, Robert Lickliter. Increased yolk testosterone facilitates prenatal perceptual learning in Northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus). Hormones and Behavior, Elsevier, 2009, 56 (4), ⟨10.1016/j.yhbeh.2009.07.008⟩. ⟨hal-01355471⟩



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