The emergence of thermoregulation in avian species is a complex matter in which neural as well as hormonal processes are involved. In a previous paper, the neural aspects of primary avian thermoregulation were discussed. In this paper the role of the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis (HPT-axis) and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA-axis) in the ontogeny of avian thermoregulation is evaluated. The regulatory mechanisms and different important hormones of both axes, which have stimulatory or inhibitory effects, are discussed. Because the onset of functionality of the thermoregulatory system is of great interest, the ontogeny and functionality of the hormonal axes are clarified. There is a great difference between precocial and altricial birds in hormonal events as well as in neural processes which are involved in the emergence of thermoregulation. In precocial avian species the HPT-axis becomes functional during the mid- to late embryonic period while the same axis only becomes fully functional during the first week post-hatch in altricial avian species.
As early as the sixties, the emergence of homeothermy in chickens was investigated. It was concluded that the thyroid gland plays an important role in the thermoregulatory mechanisms of newly hatched chicks. More recent studies however were not able to show any direct effect of the thyroid hormones on the thermoregulation of day-old chicks, although blocking the conversion of T4 to T3 caused a decrease in body temperature in young chicks. Thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) is known to act in thermoregulation in mammals and several authors have found an effect of TRH on the metabolism of young and older chicks. However, the exact mechanism still remains unclear.
Because the HPT- and the HPA-axis show close relationships, the role of the HPA-axis in the ontogeny of thermoregulation is also taken into consideration in this review. In mammals as well as in birds, corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) is involved in the primary thermoregulation.
We conclude that the HPT-axis has an important role in the ontogeny of avian thermoregulation. The exact role of the HPA-axis remains largely unclear although at least CRH is definitely of some importance.