Poultry science

Serotonergic mediation of aggression in high and low aggressive chicken strains.

PMID 18339980


Serotonin (5-HT) regulates aggressive behavior via binding to its receptors, such as 5-HT1A and 1B, in humans and rodents. Here we investigate the heritable components of 5-HT regulation of aggressiveness in chickens, utilizing 3 distinct genetic strains. In this study, we used 2 divergently selected strains (high and low group productivity and survivability, respectively; HGPS and LGPS) and a third strain, Dekalb XL (DXL), an aggressive out-group. Hens were paired within the same strain. At 24 wk of age, the subordinate of each pair received a daily i.p. injection of NAN-190 (0.5 mg/kg, a 5-HT1A antagonist), GR-127935 (0.5 mg/kg, a 5-HT1B antagonist), or saline (control) for 5 consecutive days. Frequency of aggressive behaviors was increased in the hens of DXL and LGPS treated with 5-HT1A antagonist and in the HGPS hens treated with 5-HT1B antagonist. The 5-HT1B antagonist-treated HGPS hens and 5-HT1A antagonist-treated LGPS hens also displayed increased feather pecking, but neither antagonist had an effect on feather pecking of DXL hens. This may suggest that multiple mediating factors alter feather pecking behaviors. Among the controls, LGPS hens have higher epinephrine levels than HGPS or DXL hens, indicative of the inferior stress-coping ability of LGPS hens. Treatment with 5-HT1B antagonist reduced epinephrine in LGPS hens but not in DXL or HGPS hens, suggesting a role of 5-HT1B in stress regulation in LGPS hens. The results provide evidence for different heritable serotonergic mediation of aggressive behaviors and stress coping in chickens.