The effect of acute stress and long-term corticosteroid administration on plasma metabolites in an urban and desert songbird

Scott Davies, Natalie S. Rodriguez, Karen Sweazea, Pierre Deviche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

25 Scopus citations


In response to stressful stimuli, animals activate the hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal axis, which can result in transition to the "emergency life history stage." A key adaptive characteristic of this life history stage is the mobilization of energy stores. However, few data are available on the metabolic response to acute stress in wild-caught, free-ranging birds. We quantified the effect of acute capture and restraint stress on plasma glucose, free fatty acid, and uric acid in free-ranging Abert's towhees Melozone aberti. Furthermore, birds were caught from urban and desert localities of Phoenix, Arizona, to investigate potential effects of urban versus desert habitats on the corticosterone (CORT) and metabolic response to acute stress. Complementing work on free-ranging birds, captive towhees received CORT-filled Silastic capsules to investigate the response of urban and desert conspecifics to long-term CORT administration. We quantified the effect of CORT administration on baseline plasma glucose and uric acid, liver and pectoralis muscle glycogen stores, kidney phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK-C, a key gluconeogenic enzyme), and body mass. Acute stress increased plasma CORT and glucose and decreased plasma uric acid but had no effect on plasma free fatty acid. There was no difference between urban and desert localities in body mass, fat scores, and the response to acute stress. CORT administration decreased body mass but had no effect on glucose and uric acid, pectoral muscle glycogen, or kidney PEPCK-C. However, liver glycogen of CORTtreated urban birds increased compared with corresponding controls, whereas glycogen decreased in CORT-treated desert birds. This study suggests that Abert's towhees principally mobilize glucose during acute stress but urban and desert towhees do not differ in their CORT and metabolic response to acute stress or long-term CORT administration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-60
Number of pages14
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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