Contrasting migratory journeys and changes in hippocampal astrocyte morphology in shorebirds

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European Journal of Neuroscience





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Semipalmated sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) migration to the Southern Hemisphere includes a 5-day non-stop flight over the Atlantic Ocean, whereas semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) migration, to the same area, is largely over land, with stopovers for feeding and rest. We compared the number and 3D morphology of hippocampal astrocytes of Ch. semipalmatus before and after autumnal migration with those of C. pusilla to test the hypothesis that the contrasting migratory flights of these species could differentially shape hippocampal astrocyte number and morphology. We captured individuals from both species in the Bay of Fundy (Canada) and in the coastal region of Bragança (Brazil) and processed their brains for selective GFAP immunolabeling of astrocytes. Hierarchical cluster analysis of astrocyte morphological features distinguished two families of morphological phenotypes, named type I and type II, which were differentially affected after migratory flights. Stereological counts of hippocampal astrocytes demonstrated that the number of astrocytes decreased significantly in C. pusilla, but did not change in Ch. semipalmatus. In addition, C. pusilla and Ch. semipalmatus hippocampal astrocyte morphological features were differentially affected after autumnal migration. We evaluated whether astrocyte morphometric variables were influenced by phylogenetic differences between C. pusilla and Ch. semipalmatus, using phylogenetically independent contrast approach, and phylogenetic trees generated by nuclear and mitochondrial markers. Our findings suggest that phylogenetic differences do not explain the results and that contrasting long-distance migratory flights shape plasticity of type I and type II astrocytes in different ways, which may imply distinct physiological roles for these cells.