Effect of reproductive status on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity and reactivity in male California mice (Peromyscus californicus)

Breanna N. Harris, Wendy Saltzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Previous studies indicate that reproductive condition can alter stress response and glucocorticoid release. Although the functional significance of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis modulation by breeding condition is not fully understood, one possible explanation is the behavior hypothesis, which states that an animal's need to express parental behavior may be driving modulation of the HPA axis. This possibility is consistent with findings of blunted activity and reactivity of the HPA axis in lactating female mammals; however, effects of reproductive status on HPA function have not been well characterized in male mammals that express parental behavior. Therefore, we tested this hypothesis in the monogamous and biparental California mouse. Several aspects of HPA activity were compared in males from three reproductive conditions: virgin males (housed with another male), non-breeding males (housed with a tubally ligated female), and first-time fathers (housed with a female and their first litter of pups). In light of the behavior hypothesis we predicted that new fathers would differ from virgin and non-breeding males in several aspects of HPA function and corticosterone (CORT) output: decreased amplitude of the diurnal rhythm in CORT, a blunted CORT increase following predator-odor stress, increased sensitivity to glucocorticoid negative feedback, and/or a blunted CORT response to pharmacological stimulation. In addition, we predicted that first-time fathers would be more resistant to CORT-induced suppression of testosterone secretion, as testosterone is important for paternal behavior in this species. We found that virgin males, non-breeding males and first-time fathers did not display any CORT differences in diurnal rhythm, response to a predator-odor stressor, or response to pharmacological suppression or stimulation. Additionally, there were no differences in circulating testosterone concentrations. Adrenal mass was, however, significantly lower in new fathers than in virgin or non-breeding males. These results suggest that the behavior hypothesis does not explain HPA function across reproductive conditions in male California mice. •Reproductive condition can alter the stress response and glucocorticoid release.•Tested the behavior hypothesis in males - virgins, non-breeding, first-time fathers•Groups did not differ in baseline, post-stress, post-DEX, or post-CRH CORT levels.•Adrenal mass was lower in new fathers than in virgin or non-breeding males.•The behavior hypothesis (need for parental behavior drives HPA change) - not supported.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-76
Number of pages7
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - Mar 5 2013


  • Behavior hypothesis
  • California mouse
  • Corticosterone
  • Glucocorticoid
  • HPA axis
  • Paternal behavior
  • Peromyscus californicus
  • Stress


Dive into the research topics of 'Effect of reproductive status on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity and reactivity in male California mice (Peromyscus californicus)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this