UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dehydroepiandrosterone and 17beta-Estradiol in plasma and brain of developing and adult zebra finches Shah, Amit Harendra


The classical model of sexual differentiation states that genes influence gonadal differentiation, and gonadal hormones then drive sexual differentiation throughout development. This model has been called into question by research, especially in songbirds, providing evidence for alternative mechanisms like direct effect of genes and local production of steroids via de novo synthesis or local metabolism of steroid precursors like DHEA, which can be metabolized to testosterone and E₂. In order to assess the role of local steroid production on sexual differentiation in songbirds, levels of DHEA and E₂ were measured in brachial and jugular plasma, as well as brain and peripheral tissues in zebra finches at critical ages during development and in adulthood. DHEA levels in brachial and jugular plasma peaked at P30 and higher DHEA levels in jugular plasma were found in males relative to females at P30. Also, at P30, higher DHEA levels were found in rostral telencephalon in females relative to males. The findings of this study indicate that DHEA may play a role in sexual differentiation of songbirds. Surprisingly, E₂ was non-detectable in many plasma and tissue samples. Higher E₂ was found in the diencephalon in females relative to males at P3/P4 and higher E₂ was found in gonads in adult females relative to males. There was little evidence to suggest that E₂ is synthesized de novo in the brain, although perhaps E₂ is being rapidly metabolized into another estrogen or E₂ synthesis is more localized in the synapse. The findings of this study support the role of alternative mechanisms like de novo steroid synthesis and local metabolism of steroid precursors and challenge the role of classical mechanisms of sexual differentiation in songbirds. Also, these findings may have important implications for sex differences, which develop independently of gonadal hormones, in other animal species.

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