Chronic increase of dietary L-tryptophan decreases gentle feather pecking behaviour

Y.M. van Hierden, J.M. Koolhaas, S.M. Korte

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    63 Citations (Scopus)


    Many studies show the involvement of the serotonergic (5-HT) system in the performance of abnormal behaviour in both human and animals. Recently, we showed that acute reduction of 5-HT turnover in the forebrain, increased gentle and severe feather pecking behaviour in chicks from a high (HFP) and low feather pecking (LFP) line of laying hens, suggesting that the performance of feather pecking behaviour involves low 5-HT neurotransmission. In the present study, we postulated that if low 5-HT is causally underlying feather pecking, increasing, 5-HT turnover in the forebrain will decrease the development and performance of feather pecking. Augmentation of 5-HT neurotransmission in the brain was induced by chronically increasing dietary levels of the essential amino acid L-tryptophan (TRP) from which 5-HT is synthesised. From the age of 34 days, UP and HFP chicks were fed a diet containing 2% TRP, whereas control birds of both lines were continuously fed with the normal rearing feed (0.16% TRP). From 35 days of age, litter was removed from the pens (10 pens/line-treatment) and all chicks (10 chicks/pen) were housed on a slatted floor until the end of the experiment. At 49 days of age, feather pecking behaviour was studied for 30 min. At 50 days of age baseline corticosterone, TRP and other large amino acids (LNAAs) were measured in the blood plasma of decapitated chicks (10 chicks per line- treatment). Furthermore, plasma corticosterone and central 5-HT turnover levels in response to manual restraint (5 min) were determined (10 chicks/line-treatment). For neither gentle nor severe feather pecking a significant line x treatment interaction was found. However, TRP treatment resulted in a significant [P = 0.02] overall decrease of the frequency of gentle feather pecking. For severe feather pecking a similar but not significant pattern was found. Significant line effects were found for gentle and severe feather pecking. HFP birds showed significant of gentle and severe feather pecking behaviour than LFP birds [P <0.001]. increased the TRP/LNAA ratio in the plasma of the chicks. Furthermore, TRP/LNAA and stress induced levels of plasma corticosterone (although more pronounced in the UP line). TRP supplementation significantly increased 5-HT turnover in the hippocampus and archistriatum and tended to do so in the remainder of the forebrain. The results confirm our hypothesis that feather pecking behaviour is triggered by low serotonergic neurotransmission, as increasing serotonergic tone, by increasing dietary TRP, decreases gentle feather pecking behaviour. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)71-84
    Number of pages14
    JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


    • obsessive-compulsive disorder
    • trout oncorhynchus-mykiss
    • rainbow-trout
    • laying hens
    • serotonin
    • plasma
    • corticosterone
    • chicks
    • stress
    • brain


    Dive into the research topics of 'Chronic increase of dietary L-tryptophan decreases gentle feather pecking behaviour'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this