Studies in our laboratory have focused on endocrine, neuroendocrine, and behavioral components of reproduction in the Japanese quail. These studies considered various stages in the life cycle, including embryonic development, sexual maturation, adult reproductive function, and aging. A major focus of our research has been the role of neuroendocrine systems that appear to synchronize both endocrine and behavioral responses. These studies provide the basis for our more recent research on the impact of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on reproductive function in the Japanese quail. These endocrine active chemicals include pesticides, herbicides, industrial products, and plant phytoestrogens. Many of these chemicals appear to mimic vertebrate steroids, often by interacting with steroid receptors. However, most EDCs have relatively weak biological activity compared to native steroid hormones. Therefore, it becomes important to understand the mode and mechanism of action of classes of these chemicals and sensitive stages in the life history of various species. Precocial birds, such as the Japanese quail, are likely to be sensitive to EDC effects during embryonic development, because sexual differentiation occurs during this period. Accordingly, adult quail may be less impacted by EDC exposure. Because there are a great many data available on normal development and reproductive function in this species, the Japanese quail provides an excellent model for examining the effects of EDCs. Thus, we have begun studies using a Japanese quail model system to study the effects of EDCs on reproductive endocrine and behavioral responses. In this review, we have two goals: first, to provide a summary of reproductive development and sexual differentiation in intact Japanese quail embryos, including ontogenetic patterns in steroid hormones in the embryonic and maturing quail. Second, we discuss some recent data from experiments in our laboratory in which EDCs have been tested in Japanese quail. The Japanese quail provides an excellent avian model for testing EDCs because this species has well-characterized reproductive endocrine and behavioral responses. Considerable research has been conducted in quail in which the effects of embryonic steroid exposure have been studied relative to reproductive behavior. Moreover, developmental processes have been studied extensively and include investigations of the reproductive axis, thyroid system, and stress and immune responses. We have conducted a number of studies, which have considered long-term neuroendocrine consequences as well as behavioral responses to steroids. Some of these studies have specifically tested the effects of embryonic steroid exposure on later reproductive function in a multigenerational context. A multigenerational exposure provides a basis for understanding potential exposure scenarios in the field. In addition, potential routes of exposure to EDCs for avian species are being considered, as well as differential effects due to stage of the life cycle at exposure to an EDC. The studies in our laboratory have used both diet and egg injection as modes of exposure for Japanese quail. In this way, birds were exposed to a specific dose of an EDC at a selected stage in development by injection. Alternatively, dietary exposure appears to be a primary route of exposure; therefore experimental exposure through the diet mimics potential field situations. Thus, experiments should consider a number of aspects of exposure when attempting to replicate field exposures to EDCs.
Additional publication details
Neuroendocrine and behavioral implications of endocrine disrupting chemicals in quail