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Cree, A, C.L. Tyrrell, M.R. Preest, D. Thorburn, and L.J. Guillette, Jr. 2003. Protecting embryos from stress: corticosterone effects and the corticosterone response to capture and confinement during pregnancy in a live-bearing lizard (Hoplodactylus maculatus). General and Comparative Endocrinology 134: 316-329. Full Article

Hormones in the embryonic environment, including those of the hypothalamo–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, have profound effects on development in eutherian mammals. However, little is known about their effects in reptiles that have independently evolved viviparity. We investigated whether exogenous corticosterone affected embryonic development in the viviparous gecko Hoplodactylus maculatus, and whether pregnant geckos have a corticosterone response to capture and confinement that is suppressed relative to that in non-pregnant (vitellogenic) females and males. Corticosterone implants (5 mg, slow-release) administered to females in mid-pregnancy caused a large elevation of corticosterone in maternal plasma (P<0.001), probable reductions in embryonic growth and development (P=0.069–0.073), developmental abnormalities and eventual abortions. Cool temperature produced similar reductions in embryonic growth and development (P0.036 cf. warm controls), but pregnancies were eventually successful. Despite the potentially harmful effects of elevated plasma corticosterone, pregnant females did not suppress their corticosterone response to capture and confinement relative to vitellogenic females, and both groups of females had higher responses than males. Future research should address whether lower maternal doses of corticosterone produce non-lethal effects on development that could contribute to phenotypic plasticity. Corticosterone implants also led to increased basking in pregnant females (P<0.001), and basal corticosterone in wild geckos (independent of reproductive condition) was positively correlated with body temperature (P<0.001). Interactions between temperature and corticosterone may have broad significance to other terrestrial ectotherms, and body temperature should be considered as a variable influencing plasma corticosterone concentrations in all future studies on reptiles.

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