Incubation behavior or broodiness in turkey hens is characterized by ovarian regression, hyperprolactinemia, and persistent nesting. Nest-deprivation of incubating turkey hens results in disruption of broodiness accompanied by a precipitous decline in plasma prolactin (PRL) concentrations. The objective of the present study is to examine cellular changes in the pituitary gland associated with nest-deprivation for 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 7 days. Bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) was administered prior to kill to study proliferative activity. Pituitary tissue sections were immunostained using turkey growth hormone (GH) antibody, and/or chicken PRL peptide antibody, and BrdU antibody. Plasma PRL concentrations declined significantly following nest-deprivation for 1 or more days. The midsagittal pituitary area immunoreactive (ir) to GH was significantly increased while that of PRL was significantly decreased following nest-deprivation for 2 or more days. Terminal deoxy-UTP nick end labeling and PRL-immunostaining revealed an abundance of apoptotic nuclei in both cephalic and caudal lobes of the anterior pituitary gland, suggestive of programmed cellular death of lactotrophs in the pituitary gland of hens nest-deprived for 2 or more days. Mammosomatotrophs were abundant in hens nest-deprived on Day 0 but were absent in hens nest-deprived for 1 or more days. Proliferating (BrdU-ir) cells were significantly abundant in the pituitary cephalic and caudal lobes following nest-deprivation for 1 or more days but were absent on Day 0 or in laying hens. Dual-labeling studies indicated that most of the BrdU-ir nuclei in the caudal lobe were not colocalized in somatotrophs in hens nest-deprived for 1–4 days but did colocalize with GH following 7 days of nest-deprivation. In conclusion, nest-deprivation of incubating turkey hens results in 1) a precipitous decline in plasma PRL concentration, 2) programmed cell death of lactotrophs, 3) disappearance of mammosomatotrophs, 4) increased proliferative activity of pituitary cells, and 5) recruitment of somatotrophs arising primarily from mitosis of nonsomatotrophic cells.
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