Functional development of the hypothalamo‐hypophyseal‐adrenal cortex axis in the chick embryo, Gallus domesticus

Phyllis M. Wise, B. E. Frye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Basal plasma levels of corticosterone increased gradually during the second half of incubation, reaching a peak around the time of hatching. Stress resulted in a very significant elevation of corticosterone above the basal level in embryos 16 days or older, but not in younger embryos. Newly hatched chicks did not respond to stress, but a typical stress response was evident one week after hatching. Adrenocorticotropin (100 mU) elicited a significant rise in plasma corticosterone in 14‐day embryos and in newly hatched chicks, demonstrating that the adrenal is capable of responding to pituitary stimulation at these times when a stress response does not occur. Decapitated 16‐day embryos had significantly lower basal levels of corticosterone than normal, and showed no rise in corticosterone in response to stress. Basal levels of corticosterone were unaffected by decapitation of 14‐day embryos. Grafting ten‐day embryonic pituitaries to the chorioallantoic membrane on day 9 of incubation restored normal basal hormone levels on day 16 in decapitated embryos, but did not restore the ability to respond to stress. This study demonstrates that the hypothalamo‐hypophyseal‐adrenal axis is functional before hatching in chicks. The adrenal exhibits significant autonomous functional capability prior to day 14, and the pituitary becomes important in maintaining both the resting level of hormone and the stress response between days 14 and 16 of incubation. The hypothalamus does not appear to control normal resting levels of corticosterone, but is essential for the stress response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-291
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1973
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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