In female chickens of all breeds development of female feathering pattern is mediated by estrogens, whereas normal males and castrated chickens of both sexes develop male feathering. Male chickens carrying the henny feathering trait (such as the Sebright bantam and golden Campine) develop a female feathering pattern but otherwise virilize normally. To examine the possibility that the henny feathering trait is the result of increased conversion of androgen to estrogen in skin, estrogen formation from [1,2,6,7-3H]testosterone was measured in tissue slices from control breeds and chickens with the henny feathering trait. Rates of estrogen formation were undetectable or low in all control tissues other than ovary, whereas rates were high in skin and skin appendages and detectable in many tissues from Sebright and Campine birds. The increased rate of estrogen formation in skin was demonstrable in Sebright chicks and in all areas of skin biopsied in the mature bird. Furthermore, plasma levels of 17β-estradiol were higher in Sebright and Campine than in control male cocks. Thus, increased formation of estrogen from androgen in the peripheral tissues probably explains the henny feathering trait.
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