In mammals, stress hormones have profound influences on spatial learning and memory. Here, we investigated whether glucocorticoids influence cognitive abilities in birds by testing a line of zebra finches selectively bred to respond to an acute stressor with high plasma corticosterone (CORT) levels. Cognitive performance was assessed by spatial and visual one-trial associative memory tasks. Task performance in the high CORT birds was compared with that of the random-bred birds from a control breeding line. The birds selected for high CORT in response to an acute stressor performed less well than the controls in the spatial task, but there were no significant differences between the lines in performance during the visual task. The birds from the two lines did not differ in their plasma CORT levels immediately after the performance of the memory tasks; nevertheless, there were significant differences in peak plasma CORT between the lines. The high CORT birds also had significantly lower mineralocorticoid receptor mRNA expression in the hippocampus than the control birds. There was no measurable difference between the lines in glucocorticoid receptor mRNA density in either the hippocampus or the paraventricular nucleus. Together, these findings provide evidence to suggest that stress hormones have important regulatory roles in avian spatial cognition.
|Number of pages||7|
|Journal||Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences|
|Publication status||Published - 2007|