Seasonal transfer and quantification of urinary estradiol in the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus)
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Growing evidence shows that sex steroids not only act within the individual whose glands produce them; they can also act on proximate conspecifics. Previous studies show that exogenous 17β-estradiol (E2) can be absorbed both nasally and percutaneously, arriving in blood, neural, reproductive, and peripheral tissues. When male bats were injected with radiolabeled E2 (3H-E2) and housed with females during the mating season, radioactivity was reliably measured in the females' tissues. The present study was designed to compare E2 transfer from male to female bats at three time points in the annual reproductive cycle: spring (ovulation and fertilization), summer (maternal season), and autumn (mating season). Pairs of mature female bats were housed with a mature 3H-E2-treated male (50 μCi). Following 48 h of communal housing, radioactivity was measured in the tissues of female bats. Higher levels of radioactivity were present in the uterus and other tissues during the spring and autumn seasons compared to the summer season. We also measured natural levels of bioactive, unconjugated E2 in the urine of male bats using enzyme immunoassays, and found that it was present in all three seasons but at lower levels during the summer. Male-excreted E2 could transfer to females within the close confines of a roost, potentially influencing their reproductive physiology and behavior. These results suggest increased E2 transfer coincides with female reproduction, with urine as a likely vector. We suggest that sex steroid transfer among interacting individuals may explain several mammalian phenomena historically viewed as "pheromonal".
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