Maternally derived hormones induce variation in offspring phenotype, with consequences that can carry over into post-natal life and even into adulthood. In birds, maternal egg corticosterone (CORT) is known to exert contrasting effects on offspring morphology, physiology and behaviour after hatching. However, information on the effects of CORT exposure on pre-hatching embryonic development is limited. We experimentally increased yolk CORT levels in yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) eggs, and assessed the effects on embryo pre-hatching development and oxidative status of brain and liver. CORT-supplemented embryos reached a larger skeletal size and liver mass compared with controls. Embryos from CORT-injected last-laid eggs showed decreased activity of the hepatic antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase and catalase, while intermediate-laid eggs showed increased levels of lipid peroxidation. However, elevated yolk CORT did not affect oxidative stress endpoints in the brain. Our results indicate that elevated yolk CORT levels affect prenatal embryo development by promoting skeletal growth, and induce laying sequence- and organ-specific oxidative imbalance, with potential adverse consequences during postnatal life, especially for late-hatched offspring.

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