Post-natal corticosterone exposure downregulates the HPA axis through adulthood in a common passerine.
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The hypothalamic-pituitaryadrenal (HPA) axis is one of the most important physiological mechanisms for mediating life-history trade-offs by reallocating resources to immediate survival from other life-history components during a perturbation. Early-life stressor experience and associated upregulation of glucocorticoids can induce short- and long-term changes to the HPA axis in ways that may optimize survival and/or reproduction for the expected adult environment. Although short-term changes to the HPA axis following perinatal stress are well documented, we know less about the long-term effects of early-life stress especially for non-mammalian wild species. Here, we determined long-term effects of experimental post-natal increases in a circulating glucocorticoid on the HPA axis in a common passerine bird, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus). We manipulated circulating corticosterone in wild, free-living nestlings, transferred fledglings to captivity and assessed corticosterone response to a standardized capture-restraint protocol at the pre-fledging, juvenile, and adult stages. Early-life corticosterone manipulation was associated with depressed baseline and stress-induced concentrations of corticosterone at all stages of life, through adulthood. These results provide rare evidence for the effects of early-life stressor experiences through adulthood, with important implications for understanding developmental programming of an endocrine mediator of life history trade-offs.