Journal Of Experimental Biology
Red-sided garter snake, ACTH, Glucocorticoids
Like many vertebrates, hormonal responses to stress vary seasonally in red-sided garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis). For example, males generally exhibit reduced glucocorticoid responses to a standard stressor during the spring mating season. We asked whether variation in adrenal sensitivity to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) explains why glucocorticoid responses to capture stress vary with sex, season, and body condition in red-sided garter snakes. We measured glucocorticoids at 0, 1, and 4 hours after injection with ACTH (0.1 IU/g body mass) or vehicle in males and females during the spring mating season and fall pre-hibernation period. Because elevated glucocorticoids can influence sex steroids, we also examined androgen and estradiol responses to ACTH. ACTH treatment increased glucocorticoids in both sexes and seasons. Spring-collected males had a smaller integrated glucocorticoid response to ACTH than fall-collected males. The integrated glucocorticoid response to ACTH differed with sex during the spring, with males having a smaller glucocorticoid response than females. Although integrated glucocorticoid responses to ACTH did not vary with body condition, we observed an interaction among season, sex and body condition. In males, ACTH treatment did not alter androgens in either season, but androgens decreased during the sampling period. Similar to previous studies, plasma estradiol was low or undetectable during the spring and fall and therefore any effect of ACTH treatment on estradiol could not be determined. These data provide support for a mechanism that partly explains how the HPA axis integrates information about season, sex, and body condition: namely, variation in adrenal responsiveness to ACTH.
Dayger, C. A., & Lutterschmidt, D. I. (2016). Seasonal and sex differences in responsiveness to adrenocorticotropic hormone contribute to stress response plasticity in red-sided garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis). Journal of Experimental Biology, 219(7), 1022-1030.