Elevated glucocorticoids during gestation suggest sex-specific effects on offspring telomere lengths in a wild lizard

David C. Ensminger, Sue R. Siegel, Dustin A.S. Owen, Michael J. Sheriff, Tracy Langkilde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The effects of maternal glucocorticoids (e.g. corticosterone, CORT) on offspring interest biologists due to increasing environmental perturbations. While little is known about the impact of maternal CORT on offspring fitness, it may modulate telomere length and compromise offspring health. Here, we use a modified real-time quantitative PCR assay to assess telomere length using small DNA quantities (<60 ng). We tested the hypothesis that increased maternal CORT during gestation decreases offspring telomere length. While CORT-driven telomere shortening is well established within individuals, cross-generational effects remain unclear. We treated wild-caught gravid female eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) with daily transdermal applications of CORT, at ecologically relevant levels, from capture to laying. Maternal CORT treatment did not alter maternal telomere length, although baseline maternal CORT concentrations had a weak, negative correlation with maternal telomere length. There was no relation between mother and offspring telomere length. There was a trend for maternal CORT treatment to shorten telomeres of sons but not daughters. Our treatment replicated exposure to a single stressor per day, likely underestimating effects seen in the wild where stressors may be more frequent. Future research should further explore fitness consequences of maternal CORT effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110971
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology -Part A : Molecular and Integrative Physiology
StatePublished - Jul 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology


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