Actions of glucocorticoids at a seasonal baseline as compared to stress-related levels in the regulation of periodic life processes

Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2006 Sep 1;148(2):132-49. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2006.02.013. Epub 2006 Apr 19.


For decades, demands associated with the predictable life-history cycle have been considered stressful and have not been distinguished from stress that occurs in association with unpredictable and life-threatening perturbations in the environment. The recent emergence of the concept of allostasis distinguishes behavioral and physiological responses to predictable routines as opposed to unpredictable perturbations, and allows for their comparison within one theoretical framework. Glucocorticosteroids (GCs) have been proposed as important mediators of allostasis, as they allow for rapid readjustment and support of behavior and physiology in response to predictable and unpredictable demands (allostatic load). Much work has already been done in defining GC action at the high concentrations that accompany life-threatening perturbations. However, less is known about the role of GCs in relation to daily and seasonal life processes. In this review, we summarize the known behavioral and physiological effects of GCs relating to the predictable life-history cycle, paying particular attention to feeding behavior, locomotor activity and energy metabolism. Although we utilize a comparative approach, emphasis is placed on birds. In addition, we briefly review effects of GCs at stress-related concentrations to test the hypothesis that different levels of GCs play specific and distinct roles in the regulation of life processes and, thus, participate in the promotion of different physiological states. We also examine the receptor types through which GC action may be mediated and suggest mechanisms whereby different GC concentrations may exert their actions. In conclusion, we argue that biological actions of GCs at "non-stress" seasonal concentrations play a critical role in the adjustment of responses that accompany predictable variability in the environment and demand more careful consideration in future studies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology
  • Environment
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Glucocorticoids / blood
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism
  • Glucocorticoids / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Periodicity*
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / physiology
  • Salts / metabolism
  • Seasons*
  • Water / metabolism


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Salts
  • Water