skip to main content

Title: Contrasting Responses of Lizards to Divergent Ecological Stressors Across Biological Levels of Organization
Abstract It is frequently hypothesized that animals employ a generalized “stress response,” largely mediated by glucocorticoid (GC) hormones, such as corticosterone, to combat challenging environmental conditions. Under this hypothesis, diverse stressors are predicted to have concordant effects across biological levels of an organism. We tested the generalized stress response hypothesis in two complementary experiments with juvenile and adult male Eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus). In both experiments, animals were exposed to diverse, ecologically-relevant, acute stressors (high temperature or red imported fire ants, Solenopsis invicta) and we examined their responses at three biological levels: behavioral; physiological (endocrine [plasma corticosterone and blood glucose concentrations] and innate immunity [complement and natural antibodies]); and cellular responses (gene expression of a panel of five heat-shock proteins in blood and liver) at 30 or 90 min post stress initiation. In both experiments, we observed large differences in the cellular response to the two stressors, which contrasts the similar behavioral and endocrine responses. In the adult experiment for which we had innate immune data, the stressors affected immune function independently, and they were correlated with CORT in opposing directions. Taken together, these results challenge the concept of a generalized stress response. Rather, the stress response was context specific, more » especially at the cellular level. Such context-specificity might explain why attempts to link GC hormones with life history and fitness have proved difficult. Our results emphasize the need for indicators at multiple biological levels and whole-organism examinations of stress. « less
; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Integrative and Comparative Biology
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
292 to 305
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Cooke, Steven (Ed.)
    Abstract Baleen whales are subject to a myriad of natural and anthropogenic stressors, but understanding how these stressors affect physiology is difficult. Measurement of adrenal glucocorticoid (GC) hormones involved in the vertebrate stress response (cortisol and corticosterone) in baleen could help fill this data gap. Baleen analysis is a powerful tool, allowing for a retrospective re-creation of multiple years of GC hormone concentrations at approximately a monthly resolution. We hypothesized that whales that died from acute causes (e.g. ship strike) would have lower levels of baleen GCs than whales that died from extended illness or injury (e.g. long-term entanglement in fishing gear). To test this hypothesis, we extracted hormones from baleen plates of four humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) with well-documented deaths including multiple and chronic entanglements (n = 1, female), ship strike (n = 2, male and female) and chronic illness with nutritional stress (n = 1, male). Over ~3 years of baleen growth and during multiple entanglements, the entangled whale had average corticosterone levels of 80–187% higher than the other three whales but cortisol levels were similar to two of the other three whales. The nutritionally stressed and chronically ill whale showed a slow increase in both cortisol and corticosteronemore »spanning ~3 years, followed by a sharp decline in both hormones before death, possibly indicative of adrenal failure in this moribund individual. This whale’s correlation between cortisol and corticosterone was significant but there were no correlations in the other three whales. Our results show that cortisol and corticosterone concentrations vary according to the type and duration of illness or injury. Single-point GC concentrations should be interpreted with caution as low values can occur in whales experiencing pronounced stress and individual baselines can be highly variable. Baleen analysis is a promising tissue type for retrospective analyses of physiological responses to various stressors affecting baleen whales.« less
  2. Abstract

    Vertebrates respond to a diversity of stressors by rapidly elevating glucocorticoid (GC) levels. The changes in physiology and behavior triggered by this response can be crucial for surviving a variety of challenges. Yet the same process that is invaluable in coping with immediate threats can also impose substantial damage over time. In addition to the pathological effects of long-term exposure to stress hormones, even relatively brief elevations can impair the expression of a variety of behaviors and physiological processes central to fitness, including sexual behavior, parental behavior, and immune function. Therefore, the ability to rapidly and effectively terminate the short-term response to stress may be fundamental to surviving and reproducing in dynamic environments. Here we review the evidence that variation in the ability to terminate the stress response through negative feedback is an important component of stress coping capacity. We suggest that coping capacity may also be influenced by variation in the dynamic regulation of GCs—specifically, the ability to rapidly turn on and off the stress response. Most tests of the fitness effects of these traits to date have focused on organisms experiencing severe or prolonged stressors. Here we use data collected from a long-term study of tree swallowsmore »(Tachycineta bicolor) to test whether variation in negative feedback, or other measures of GC regulation, predict components of fitness in non-chronically stressed populations. We find relatively consistent, but generally weak relationships between different fitness components and the strength of negative feedback. Reproductive success was highest in individuals that both mounted a robust stress response and had strong negative feedback. We did not see consistent evidence of a relationship between negative feedback and adult or nestling survival: negative feedback was retained in the best supported models of nestling and adult survival, but in two of three survival-related analyses the intercept-only model received only slightly less support. Both negative feedback and stress-induced GC levels—but not baseline GCs—were individually repeatable. These measures of GC activity did not consistently covary across ages and life history stages, indicating that they are independently regulated. Overall, the patterns seen here are consistent with the predictions that negative feedback—and the dynamic regulation of GCs—are important components of stress coping capacity, but that the fitness benefits of having strong negative feedback during the reproductive period are likely to manifest primarily in individuals exposed to chronic or repeated stressors.

    « less
  3. Miller, Samuel I. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Animals that are competent reservoirs of zoonotic pathogens commonly suffer little morbidity from the infections. To investigate mechanisms of this tolerance of infection, we used single-dose lipopolysaccharide (LPS) as an experimental model of inflammation and compared the responses of two rodents: Peromyscus leucopus , the white-footed deermouse and reservoir for the agents of Lyme disease and other zoonoses, and the house mouse Mus musculus . Four hours after injection with LPS or saline, blood, spleen, and liver samples were collected and subjected to transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq), metabolomics, and specific reverse transcriptase quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR). Differential expression analysis was at the gene, pathway, and network levels. LPS-treated deermice showed signs of sickness similar to those of exposed mice and had similar increases in corticosterone levels and expression of interleukin 6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor, IL-1β, and C-reactive protein. By network analysis, the M. musculus response to LPS was characterized as cytokine associated, while the P. leucopus response was dominated by neutrophil activity terms. In addition, dichotomies in the expression levels of arginase 1 and nitric oxide synthase 2 and of IL-10 and IL-12 were consistent with type M1 macrophage responses in mice and type M2 responses in deermice. Analysis ofmore »metabolites in plasma and RNA in organs revealed species differences in tryptophan metabolism. Two genes in particular signified the different phenotypes of deermice and mice: the Slpi and Ibsp genes. Key RNA-seq findings for P. leucopus were replicated in older animals, in a systemic bacterial infection, and with cultivated fibroblasts. The findings indicate that P. leucopus possesses several adaptive traits to moderate inflammation in its balancing of infection resistance and tolerance. IMPORTANCE Animals that are natural carriers of pathogens that cause human diseases commonly manifest little or no sickness as a consequence of infection. Examples include the deermouse, Peromyscus leucopus , which is a reservoir for Lyme disease and several other disease agents in North America, and some types of bats, which are carriers of viruses with pathogenicity for humans. Mechanisms of this phenomenon of infection tolerance and entailed trade-off costs are poorly understood. Using a single injection of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) endotoxin as a proxy for infection, we found that deermice differed from the mouse ( Mus musculus ) in responses to LPS in several diverse pathways, including innate immunity, oxidative stress, and metabolism. Features distinguishing the deermice cumulatively would moderate downstream ill effects of LPS. Insights gained from the P. leucopus model in the laboratory have implications for studying infection tolerance in other important reservoir species, including bats and other types of wildlife.« less
  4. Environmental stressors induce rapid physiological and behavioral shifts in vertebrate animals. However, the neurobiological mechanisms responsible for stress-induced changes in behavior are complex and not well understood. Similar to mammalian vertebrates, zebrafish adults display a preference for dark environments that is associated with predator avoidance, enhanced by stressors, and broadly used in assays for anxiety-like behavior. Although the larvae of zebrafish are a prominent model organism for understanding neural circuits, fewer studies have examined the effects of stressors on their behavior. This study examines the effects of noxious chemical and electric shock stressors on locomotion and light preference in zebrafish larvae. We found that both stressors elicited similar changes in behavior. Acute exposure induced increased swimming activity, while prolonged exposure depressed activity. Neither stressor produced a consistent shift in light/dark preference, but prolonged exposure to these stressors resulted in a pronounced decrease in exploration of different visual environments. We also examined the effects of exposure to a noxious chemical cue using whole-brain calcium imaging, and identified neural correlates in the area postrema, an area of the hindbrain containing noradrenergic and dopaminergic neurons. Pharmaceutical blockade experiments showed that ɑ-adrenergic receptors contribute to the behavioral response to an acute stressor but aremore »not necessary for the response to a prolonged stressor. These results indicate that zebrafish larvae have complex behavioral responses to stressors comparable to those of adult animals, and also suggest that these responses are mediated by similar neural pathways.« less
  5. Despite decades of research, we still lack a complete understanding of what factors influence the transition of the necessary and adaptive acute stress response to what has become known as chronic stress. This gap in knowledge has illuminated the necessity for studies that examine the thresholds between these two sides of the stress response. Here, we determine how repeated exposure to acute stressors influences physiological and behavioral responses. In this repeated measures study, house sparrows ( Passer domesticus ) were exposed to a chronic stress protocol. We took physiological and behavioral measurements before, during, and after the protocol. Blood samples were used to assess four aspects of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function: baseline corticosterone, stress-induced corticosterone, negative feedback, and the maximal capacity to secrete corticosterone. We also assessed bacterial killing capacity and changes in uric acid concentration. Neophobia trials were used to assess behavioral changes throughout the protocol. We found no significant changes in HPA axis regulation in any of the four aspects we tested. However, we found that uric acid concentrations and neophobia significantly decreased after only four days of the chronic stress protocol, while bacterial killing capacity did not decrease until after eight days of exposure. These results indicatemore »that different components of the stress response can be impacted by chronic stress on different timescales. Our results further indicate the importance of assessing multiple aspects of both physiology and behavior in order to understand how exposure to chronic stress may influence ability to cope with future challenges.« less