Robert de Bruijn

Tufts University, Medford, MA, United States

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Publications (4)10.04 Total impact

  • Robert de Bruijn, L Michael Romero
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    ABSTRACT: Free-roaming animals continually cope with changes in their environment. One of the most unpredictable environmental phenomena is weather. Being able to respond to weather appropriately is crucial as it can be a threat to survival. The stress response, consisting of increases in heart rate and release of glucocorticoids, is an important mechanism by which animals cope with stressors. This study examined behavioral, heart rate, and corticosterone responses of captive European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) to two aspects of weather mimicked under controlled conditions, a subtle (3 °C) decrease in temperature and a short, mild bout of rain. Both decreased temperature and exposure to rain elicited increases in heart rate and corticosterone in non-molting starlings. Molt is an important life history stage in birds that affects feather cover and may require a different response to weather-related stressors. We repeated the experiment in molting starlings and found increases in heart rate in response to rain and cold wind. However, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis was suppressed during molt, as molting starlings did not increase corticosterone release in response to either stimulus. These data suggest these stimuli induce increased allostatic load in starlings, and that animals may adjust their response depending on the life-history stage.
    Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular & integrative physiology 12/2012; · 2.20 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Glucocorticoid hormones play a key role in the stress response, but plasma concentrations vary based on physiological, environmental, or social parameters. However, hormone titers alone do not determine organismal response. To enhance our understanding of glucocorticoid actions we can examine 'downstream' factors in the organismal stress response, measuring glucocorticoid receptors across target tissues. Here, we characterized intracellular binding sites for CORT (corticosterone, the avian glucocorticoid) in house sparrow (Passer domesticus) brain, liver, skeletal muscle, spleen, fat, testes, ovary, kidney and skin. We used radioligand binding assays to identify total capacity, relative density and affinity for CORT of intracellular receptors in each tissue. Most evidence supported two binding sites similar to mammalian low-affinity glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and a high-affinity mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) for brain, liver, kidney and testes, and only a GR-like receptor for muscle, spleen, fat, ovary and skin. However, kidney data were somewhat more complicated, possibly hinting at a mineralocorticoid function for CORT and/or GR in birds. In all tissues, GR and MR affinities were close to published house sparrow values (K(d)∼6nM for GR, and ∼0.2nM for MR). Taken together, these data show that CORT receptor distribution appears to be as widespread in birds as it is in mammals, and suggest that independent regulation of peripheral receptors in different target tissues may play a role in CORT's diverse physiological effects.
    General and Comparative Endocrinology 08/2012; 179(2):214-20. · 2.82 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is modulated seasonally in many species, and chronic stress can alter HPA functioning. However, it is not known how these two factors interact - are there particular life history stages when animals are more or less vulnerable to chronic stress? We captured wild house sparrows (Passer domesticus) in Massachusetts during six different life history stages: early and late winter, pre-laying, breeding, late breeding, and molt. At each time point, we tested HPA function by measuring baseline and stress-induced corticosterone (CORT), negative feedback in response to an injection of dexamethasone, and maximum adrenal response through an injection of adrenocorticotropic hormone. We then brought birds into captivity as a model for chronic stress, and repeated the four tests 5 days later. At capture, all HPA variables varied seasonally. Birds showed increased negative feedback during breeding and late winter compared to pre-laying. Furthermore, birds during the late breeding period had down-regulated their HPA axis, perhaps in preparation for molt. After 5 days of captivity, house sparrows lost ∼11% of initial body mass, although birds lost more weight during molt and early winter. Overall, captive sparrows showed elevated baseline CORT and increased negative feedback, although negative feedback did not show a significant increase during any individual life history stage. During most of the year, adrenal sensitivity was unaffected by captivity. However, during late breeding and molt, adrenal sensitivity increased during captivity. Taken together, these data provide further support that HPA function naturally varies throughout the year, with the interesting consequence that molting birds may potentially be more vulnerable to a chronic stressor such as captivity.
    General and Comparative Endocrinology 07/2012; 178(3):494-501. · 2.82 Impact Factor
  • Robert de Bruijn, L Michael Romero
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    ABSTRACT: Free-ranging animals continuously adjust to changes in their environment. The stress response, typified by increases in heart rate and glucocorticoids, is an important physiological response regulating these changes. This study investigated heart rate, corticosterone and behavioral responses of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) to a rapid 30min decrease in temperature using an air-conditioning unit. Ten wild-caught birds were divided into pairs and exposed to four different trials. Three trials were controls: undisturbed birds; exposing birds to only the noise of the air-conditioning unit; and exposing the birds to 20°C airflow. For the experimental trial birds were exposed to 12°C air, leading to a rapid but modest 3°C drop in ambient temperature inside the birdcages. Heart rate and behavior were recorded before and during trials, while blood samples were collected before and after each trial for corticosterone measurements. Cooling, but none of the control conditions, induced an increase in heart rate and corticosterone. Additionally, cooling led to an increase in perch hopping and feather ruffling. We conclude that minor changes in temperature can elicit a stress response in European starlings, which suggests that this may be an important mechanism by which animals cope with minor rapid environmental changes.
    Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular & integrative physiology 06/2011; 160(2):260-6. · 2.20 Impact Factor