Mechanisms controling the timing of spring migration in birds
Excessive fat deposition and zugunruhe (nocturnal restlessness), two characteristics of premigratory disposition, are displayed in caged redheaded buntings. In earlier experiments thyroid ablation was found to inhibit premigratory fattening in this bird. Also, seasonal investigations on thyroid hormonal profiles indicated a distinct rise in circulating tri-iodothyronine just before spring migration, most likely as a result of increased peripheral monodeiodination of thyroxine. The physiological relevance of these findings has been assessed in the present paper. Results indicated that removal of thyroid gland completely prevented development of zugunruhe and fat deposition; replacement therapy with T4 or T3 restored both. Thyroxine-induced fattening in thyroidectomized birds was found to be dose responsive. In two experiments in thyroidectomized and intact birds each suppression of extrathyroidal conversion of thyroxine into triiodothyronine by iopanoic acid completely suppressed zugunruhe and fattening in thyroidectomized as well as intact birds, arguing for a role of triiodothyronine in migratory physiology. Blockage of thyroxine to triiodothyronine conversion, however, did not suppress feather regeneration, indicating that unlike effects on migratory parameters in the same individuals thyroxine-induced feather regeneration does not involve prior monodeiodination to triiodothyronine. Thus, contrary to the prevailing view that triiodothyronine alone is the finally active thyroid hormone (thyroxine being a precursor), both thyroxine and triiodothyronine may have specific roles to play in the physiology of seasonal events, and peripheral conversion of thyroxine to triiodothyronine may be one of the physiological devices to ensure that energetically incompatible events like migration and moulting do not occur simultaneously. Results also indicate that increasing spring daylengths which are known to trigger avian migration may influence peripheral conversion of thyroxine to triiodothyronine possibly imparting to this physiological process an adaptive value in the timing of seasonal events.