Reproductive failure associated with heat stress is a well-known phenomenon in avian species. Increased prolactin (PRL) levels in response to heat stress have been suggested as a mechanism involved in this reproductive malfunction. To test this hypothesis, laying female turkeys were subjected to 40°C for 12 h during the photo-phase daily or maintained at 24–26°C. Birds in each group received oral treatment with parachlorophenyalanine (PCPA; 50 mg/kg BW/day for 3 days), an inhibitor of serotonin (5-HT) biosynthesis, or immunized against vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP). Both treatments are known to reduce circulating PRL levels. Nontreated birds were included as controls. In the control group, high ambient temperature terminated egg laying, induced ovarian regression, reduced plasma luteinizing hormone (LH) and ovarian steroids (progesterone, testosterone, estradiol) levels, and increased plasma PRL levels and the incidence of incubation behavior. Pretreatment with PCPA reduced (P < 0.05) heat stress-induced decline in egg production, increase in PRL levels, and expression of incubation behavior. Plasma LH and ovarian steroid levels of heat stressed birds were restored to that of controls by PCPA treatment. As in PCPA-treated birds, VIP immunoneutralization of heat-stressed turkeys reduced (P < 0.05) circulating PRL levels and prevented the expression of incubation behavior. But it did not restore the decline in LH, ovarian steroids, and egg production (P > 0.05). The present findings indicate that the detrimental effect of high temperature on reproductive performance may not be related to the elevated PRL levels in heat-stressed birds but to mechanism(s) that involve 5-HT neurotransmission and the induction of hyperthermia.
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