Seasonal reproduction is common across temperate zone avian species. In these species, physiological and behavioral adaptations have evolved to change according to day length (i.e., seasonally) in order to maximize reproductive output. The hormone prolactin regulates many aspects of parental care, a critical component of reproductive success. It's secretion in birds has been shown to be under photoperiodic control, with the highest levels measured in the spring and summer months, when birds breed and show parental care. However, to date, no study has tested whether the densities of central prolactin binding sites vary seasonally, which may also account for prolactin's effect on parental care. To test this, we collected brains from free-ranging adult male dark-eyed juncos, Junco hyemalis, a biparental songbird, in the spring, summer, and fall, and used quantitative in vitro autoradiography to compare the densities of specific prolactin binding sites across 20 different brain regions. Prolactin binding sites were found in regions that regulate parental behavior in other avian species. During the summer, several hypothalamic regions that regulate parental care, including the preoptic area and tuberal nucleus, contained lower densities of prolactin binding sites, suggesting exposure to higher endogenous prolactin levels, than at other times. This observation is consistent with the fact that circulating prolactin is highest during summer, when males would be providing care to young. Overall, these data suggest that prolactin binding sites are relatively conserved in the avian brain and that central prolactin activity supports parental care efforts in juncos and other avian species.
- Prolactin receptor
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience