Distribution and origin of steroid hormones in the yolk of Japanese quail eggs (Coturnix coturnix japonica)


The yolk of avian eggs contains steroid hormones, which may influence the development and behaviour of hatched birds. The aim of the present study was to investigate the concentration as well as the distribution of various gonadal steroids in the yolk spheres of quail eggs. Steroid concentrations of dissected yolk layers were analysed after alcoholic extraction using enzyme immunoassays (EIAs) for progesterone, androstenedione and testosterone. To monitor the uptake of testosterone into the yolk, radioactive testosterone was injected i.m. into six female quails. The radioactivity of yolk layers of subsequently laid eggs was measured by liquid scintillation counting. Progesterone concentrations were highest in the outer layer (median: 2265 nmol/kg). Androstenedione (median: 453 nmol/kg), as the major androgen, and testosterone (median: 99 nmol/kg) reached their highest concentrations in interior layers, whereas in the centre the concentration of all three hormones was low. No significant variation of steroid levels in yolk layers of subsequently laid eggs was found. The highest radioactivity was detected in the outer yolk layer in those eggs laid 1 day after injection and in subsequently laid eggs was measured nearer to the centre. These results indicated local origin of the steroid hormones especially because of the result that only 0.1% of the radioactivity entered the yolk. We conclude that steroid concentrations in the yolk layers reflected progesterone and androgen production of the cells of the follicular wall at the time.

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enzyme immunoassay


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The authors thank Mrs. A. Kuchar-Schulz for laboratory assistance and the national FWF for financial support (Nr.P12914-Bio). The animal experiment was realised according to the national authority.

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Correspondence to E. Möstl.

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Communicated by G. Heldmaier

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Hackl, R., Bromundt, V., Daisley, J. et al. Distribution and origin of steroid hormones in the yolk of Japanese quail eggs (Coturnix coturnix japonica). J Comp Physiol B 173, 327–331 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-003-0339-7

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  • Japanese Quail
  • Yolk
  • Gonadal steroids
  • Radioactive testosterone
  • Enzyme immunoassay