Effect of corticosterone on growth and welfare of broiler chickens showing long or short tonic immobility

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2013 Mar;164(3):537-43. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2012.12.014. Epub 2012 Dec 22.


Tonic immobility (TI) test is commonly used to assess fear. Animals showing different TI durations demonstrate distinct behavior and biochemical responses to stress. However, less is known about how TI phenotype affects growth and welfare of domestic fowl. In this study, broiler chickens (Gallus gallus) were classified into short and long TI duration (STI and LTI) phenotypes and treated chronically with vehicle (CON) or corticosterone (CORT). STI broilers demonstrated significantly higher growth rate with higher breast muscle yield (P<0.05) and liver weight relative to BW tended to be lower (P=0.053), which was accompanied by higher serum concentration of CORT (P<0.05) and uric acid (P<0.01), but lower serum level of T4 (P=0.01). CORT severely reduced body weight, as well as the relative weight of muscle, bursa of Fabricius and spleen (P<0.001), but relative liver weight was increased (P<0.001). CORT-treated chickens had reduced serum CORT, elevated heterophile/lymphocyte ratio, and increased serum levels of total and free T3. STI broilers displayed more preening behavior (P<0.05), yet CORT elicited more walking behavior (P<0.05). No difference was observed in the welfare assessment scores between STI and LTI phenotypes under basal situation, while LTI chickens showed significantly increased incidence of pad dermatitis compared to STI under CORT exposure. The results suggest that STI broilers demonstrate better growth performance and higher adaptability to stress compared to LTI chickens.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Administration, Oral
  • Animal Welfare
  • Animals
  • Bursa of Fabricius / growth & development
  • Chickens / growth & development*
  • Chickens / physiology
  • Corticosterone / administration & dosage
  • Corticosterone / physiology*
  • Gait
  • Immobility Response, Tonic*
  • Liver / growth & development
  • Organ Size
  • Organ Specificity
  • Pectoralis Muscles / growth & development
  • Spleen / growth & development


  • Corticosterone