Feather-pecking behavior in laying hens (Gallus gallus) may be considered a behavioral pathology, comparable to human psychopathological disorders. Scientific knowledge on the causation of such disorders strongly suggests involvement of the serotonergic (5-hydroxytryptamine; 5-HT) system in feather pecking. Previously, chicks from a high-feather-pecking (HFP) line were found to display lower 5-HT turnover levels than chicks from a low-feather-pecking (LFP) line (in response to acute stress; Y. M. van Hierden et al., 2002). The present study investigated whether low 5-HT neurotransmission modulates feather pecking. First, S-15535, a somatodendritic 5-HT1A autoreceptor agonist, was demonstrated to be an excellent tool for reducing 5-HT turnover in the forebrain of LFP and HFP chicks. Second, the most effective dose of S-15535 (4.0 mg/kg body weight) significantly increased severe feather-pecking behavior. The results confirmed the postulation that the performance of feather pecking is triggered by low 5-HT neurotransmission.
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