Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Toru Shimizu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lynn B. Martin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Sanocki, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cheryl Kirstein, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Brannick, Ph.D.


stress, poly I:C, activity, birds, zenk, HVC


The developmental stress hypothesis predicts that an aversive condition, such as decreased food intake, predation, and social isolation, in the early developmental stage could have long term effects on behaviors and brain development of an animal. In nature, bird nestlings are susceptible to various factors, such as malnutrition, infections, and parasites. Effects of early life stress on adulthood have been extensively studied with some stressors including malnutrition. However, immune challenges as an early life stressor and their long-term programming effects on adult behaviors are yet to be studied in detail. The goal of the current study was to investigate changes in growth rate, personality, mate selection behaviors and brain development in zebra finch nestlings after injection with a viral infection mimicking agent, Polyinosinic: polycytidylic acid (Poly I:C). By using Poly I:C, it was possible to isolate long-term effects to the immune response of the bird. After Poly I:C injection on post-hatch day (PD) 14, morphological measures were conducted to detect changes in body growth rate. When birds became sexually mature (> ~PD 200), behaviors of birds were observed in different conditions to detect changes associated with the personality traits of animals. In mate choice trials, both attractiveness of males and mate selection behaviors of males and females were investigated. Finally, the development and neuronal activity of specific brain nuclei involved in courtship (i.e., HVC and RA) and social/sexual behaviors (nucleus taeniae of the amygdala, TnA) were investigated. The results showed that nestlings’ growth rate was not affected. However, Poly I:C injection had some effects on certain, but not all, personality traits observed in the study. Such effects were found only in female zebra finches, suggesting that there was a limited sex-specific influence of an early life immune challenge on personalities of adults. The results also showed that Control females tended to choose untreated males over Poly I:C injected males in mate choice trials. Finally, Poly I:C injection negatively affected the overall development of targeted brain nuclei. In addition, neuronal activity in TnA was higher in Poly I:C injected birds. Results of the present study suggest that one time injection with Poly I:C early in the life causes long term effects on adulthood. These findings are further discussed regarding their relevance to the developmental stress hypothesis.