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Prenatal exposure to corticosterone impairs embryonic development and increases fluctuating asymmetry in chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus)

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1. The level of corticosterone in fertilised eggs from hens (Gallus gallus domesticus) was manipulated experimentally to elucidate whether stress in laying hens is harmful to the chicks, as manifested by impaired survival and reduced growth, and whether bilateral asymmetry may represent an indicator of environmental stress in poultry.

2. Three hundred and fifty eggs were randomly divided into 4 groups; 1. untreated, 2. control, 3. 10 ng corticosterone/ml and 4. 20 ng corticosterone/ml. Each of the eggs in groups 2, 3 and 4 were injected with 100 µl ethanol-saline solution (25% ethanol in saline) containing 0, 0·6 and 1·2 µg corticosterone, respectively. After the injections, the final concentration of ethanol in the egg (albumen and yolk) was 0·03%, and the concentration of added corticosterone was 0, 10 and 20 ng/ml, respectively, in groups 2, 3 and 4. All the eggs were treated on developmental d 1.

3. Corticosterone injections resulted in greater embryonic mortality, earlier termination of foetal development and reduced growth. Moreover, chicks developing in eggs with an elevated concentration of corticosterone displayed reduced developmental stability as evidenced by increased fluctuating asymmetry (FA) in tarsus length.

4. In conclusion, an increased concentration of corticosterone in the egg was detrimental to survival and growth of the chicks. Prenatal stress also generated bilateral asymmetry, and illustrates the potential application of FA as an indicator of environmental stress in poultry.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Animal Science Agricultural University of Norway 2: Aker University Hospital Norway

Publication date: 01 December 2003

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