Social interactions require knowledge of the environment and status of others, which can be acquired indirectly by observing the behavior of others. When being observed, animals can also alter their signals based on who is watching. Here we observed how male cichlid fish (Astatotilapia burtoni) behave when being watched in two different contexts. In the first, we show that aggressive and courtship behaviors displayed by subordinate males depends critically on whether dominant males can see them, and in the second, we manipulated who was watching aggressive interactions and showed that dominant males will change their behavior depending on audience composition. In both cases, when a more dominant individual is out of view and the audience consists of more subordinate individuals, those males signal key social information to females by displaying courtship and dominant behaviors. In contrast, when a dominant male is present, males cease both aggression and courtship. These data suggest that males are keenly aware of their social environment and modulate their aggressive and courtship behaviors strategically for reproductive and social advantage.
Social status strongly affects behavior and physiology, in part mediated by gonadal hormones, although how each sex steroid acts across levels of biological organization is not well understood. We examine the role of sex steroids in modulating social behavior in dominant (DOM) and subordinate (SUB) males of a highly social fish, Astatotilapia burtoni. We first used agonists and antagonists to each sex steroid receptor and found that androgens and progestins modulate courtship behavior only in DOM, whereas estrogens modulate aggressive behavior independent of social status. We then examined the hormonal and physiological responses to sex steroid receptor antagonist treatment and uncovered substantial changes in circulating steroid hormone levels and gonad size only in SUB, not in DOM. Consistent with status-based physiological sensitivities to drug manipulation, we found that neuropeptide and steroid receptor gene expression in the preoptic area was sensitive only in SUB. However, when we compared the transcriptomes of males that received either vehicle or an estrogen receptor antagonist, 8.25% of all genes examined changed expression in DOM in comparison with only 0.56% in SUB. Finally, we integrate behavior, physiology, and brain gene expression to infer functional modules that underlie steroid receptor regulation of behavior. Our work suggests that environmentally induced changes at one level of biological organization do not simply affect changes of similar magnitude at other levels, but that instead very few key pathways likely serve as conduits for executing plastic responses across multiple levels.
Previous winning experience increases the probability of winning a subsequent contest. However, it is not clear whether winning probability is affected only by the outcome of the contest (winning or losing) or whether fighting experience itself is also sufficient to induce this effect. We investigated this question in the East African cichlid fish Pundamilia spec. To create an unresolved conflict we allowed males to fight their own mirror image prior to a real fight against a size-matched non-mirror-stimulated control male. When males fight their own mirror image, the image's response corresponds to the action of the focal animal, creating symmetrical fighting conditions without the experience of losing or winning. We found that mirror-stimulated males were more likely to win an ensuing contest than control males. Interestingly, in this species mirror stimulation also induced an increase in circulating androgens, which is consistent with the hypothesis that stimulation of these sex steroids during aggressive encounters may prepare the animal for subsequent encounters. Our results suggest that fighting experience alone coupled with an androgen response, increases the likelihood of winning, even in the absence of a winning experience. ?? 2011 Elsevier Inc.
Dopamine is an evolutionarily ancient neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in mediating behavior. In vertebrates, dopamine is central to the mesolimbic reward system, a neural network concerned with the valuation of stimulus salience, and to the nigrostriatal motor system and hypothalamic nuclei involved in the regulation of locomotion and social behavior. In amphibians, dopaminergic neurons have been mapped out in several species, yet the distribution of dopaminoreceptive cells is unknown. The túngara frog, Physalaemus pustulosus, is an excellent model system for the study of neural mechanisms by which valuations of stimuli salience and social decisions are made, especially in the context of mate choice. In order to better understand where dopamine acts to regulate social decisions in this species, we have determined the distribution of putative dopaminergic cells (using tyrosine hydroxylase immunohistochemistry) and cells receptive to dopaminergic signaling (using DARPP-32 immunohistochemistry) throughout the brain of P. pustulosus. The distribution of dopaminergic cells was comparable to other anurans. DARPP-32 immunoreactivity was identified in key brain regions known to modulate social behavior in other vertebrates including the proposed anuran homologues of the mammalian amygdalar complex, nucleus accumbens, hippocampus, striatum, preoptic area, anterior hypothalamus, ventromedial hypothalamus, and ventral tegmental area/substantia nigra pars compacta. Due to its widespread distribution, DARPP-32 likely also plays many roles in non-limbic brain regions that mediate non-social information processing. These results significantly extend our understanding of the distribution of the dopaminergic system in the anuran brain and beyond.
Catecholamines, such as dopamine, are evolutionarily ancient neurotransmitters that play an essential role in mediating behavior. In vertebrates, dopamine is central to the nigrostriatal motor and mesolimbic reward systems. Despite its importance, the distribution of the dopaminergic system has not been well studied in the teleost brain. The African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni has become an important model system in social neuroscience and lends itself to uncovering how social decisions are implemented in the brain. To understand better where dopamine acts to regulate social behavior in this species, we have determined the distribution of putative dopaminergic cells and fibers (by tyrosine hydroxylase immunohistochemistry) and dopamine receptors (by in situ hybridization for the D(1A) and D(2) dopamine receptor subtypes) throughout the forebrain and part of the mesencephalon of A. burtoni. Tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactivity was evident in several regions of the fore- and midbrain, in support of putative homologies to tetrapods. Additionally, the D(1A) and D(2) receptors were identified in brain regions known to modulate social behavior in other vertebrates, including the proposed teleost homologues of the mammalian amygdalar complex, hippocampus, striatum, preoptic area, anterior hypothalamus, ventromedial hypothalamus, and ventral tegmental area/substantia nigra pars compacta. Tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive fibers as well as D(1A) and D(2) receptor expression overlap almost completely in their distribution. These results significantly extend our understanding of the distribution of the dopaminergic system in the teleost brain and suggest a conserved role of dopamine in modulating behavior across vertebrates.
The present study describes the distribution of an arginine vasotocin (AVT) V1a receptor (AVTr) throughout the brain of a sex-changing grouper, rock hind Epinephelus adscensionis. The objectives of this study were to describe the AVTr distribution in the brain of rock hind for potential linkages of the AVT hormone system with sex-specific behaviors observed in this species and to examine sex-specific differences that might exist. An antibody was designed for rock hind AVTr against the deduced amino acid sequence for the third intracellular loop. Protein expression, identified with immunohistochemistry showed high concordance with mRNA expression, identified with in situ hybridization. AVTr protein and mRNA expression was widely distributed throughout the brain, indicating that AVT may act as a neuromodulator via this V1a receptor subtype. AVTr protein and mRNA were present in regions associated with behavior, reproduction and spatial learning, as well as sensory functions such as vision, olfaction and lateral line sensory processing. We observed high AVTr expression in granular cell formations in the internal cellular layer of olfactory bulbs, torus longitudinalis, granular layer of the corpus cerebellum, valvula of the cerebellum, nuclei of the lateral and posterior recesses, and granular eminence. High protein and mRNA expression was also observed in the preoptic area, anterior hypothalamus, and habenular nucleus. No obvious sex differences were noted in any region of the rock hind brain. ?? 2011 Elsevier B.V.
Tremendous progress has been made in our understanding of the ultimate and proximate mechanisms underlying social behavior, yet an integrative evolutionary analysis of its underpinnings has been difficult. In this review, we propose that modern genomic approaches can facilitate such studies by integrating four approaches to brain and behavior studies: (1) animals face many challenges and opportunities that are ecologically and socially equivalent across species; (2) they respond with species-specific, yet quantifiable and comparable approach and avoidance behaviors; (3) these behaviors in turn are regulated by gene modules and neurochemical codes; and (4) these behaviors are governed by brain circuits such as the mesolimbic reward system and the social behavior network. For each approach, we discuss genomic and other studies that have shed light on various aspects of social behavior and its underpinnings and suggest promising avenues for future research into the evolution of neuroethological systems. ?? 2010 Elsevier Inc.
The gonadal steroid hormone progesterone plays an important role across all vertebrates in mediating female reproductive physiology and behavior. Many effects of progesterone are mediated by a nuclear progesterone receptor (PR), which is crucial for integration of external signals and internal physiological cues in the brain to produce an appropriate behavioral output. The t??ngara frog, Physalaemus pustulosus, is an excellent model system for the study of mechanisms by which sensory signals, such as auditory communication, are processed within neural circuits where mate choice decisions are made. To establish a framework for studying the neural basis of mate choice and social behavior in this species, we first describe the cytoarchitecture of the brain using Nissl-stained sections. Then, in order to better understand where progesterone acts to regulate social decisions, we determined the distribution of PR protein throughout the brain of P. pustulosus by immunohistochemistry. We found PR immunoreactivity in key brain regions known to modulate the processing of auditory cues and social behavior in other vertebrates. Due to its widespread distribution, PR likely also plays important roles in non-limbic brain regions that mediate non-social information processing. Further, we have colocalized PR with tyrosine hydroxylase, providing a functional context for the role of progesterone in mediating motivation and motor behavior. Our results significantly extend our understanding of hormonal modulation in the anuran brain and support the important role of the nuclear progesterone receptor in modulating female mate choice and receptivity in amphibians and across vertebrates. ?? 2011 Elsevier B.V.
The nonapeptides arginine vasopressin (AVP; including its non-mammalian homolog arginine vasotocin, AVT) and oxytocin (OT; including its non-mammalian homologs mesotocin, MT, and isotocin, IT) regulate social behavior, including aggression and reproduction, via receptors conserved across vertebrates. In monogamous prairie voles, the vasopressin and oxytocin pathways are crucially important for pair-bond formation, specifically by influencing affiliative behavior toward the mate and aggression toward non-mates. Monogamous social systems are found in diverse taxa. We hypothesized that the AVT/IT pathways are associated with mating behavior in monogamous teleost fishes. We used the monogamous convict cichlid, Amatitlania nigrofasciata, to test this idea. In the first experiment, we treated males with a general nonapeptide receptor antagonist during pair-bond formation. Control males were treated with vehicle. On the first day of treatment we observed a significant reduction in both affiliative behavior toward the potential mate and aggression toward neighbors. However, the antagonist did not prevent the pair-bond from forming and the behavioral effects disappeared on subsequent treatment days. In the second experiment, we administered on three consecutive days the AVP/OT receptor antagonist to males that were in an established pair-bond. In established pairs, male affiliation towards the mate and aggressive behavior towards territorial neighbors were not affected by the antagonist. Our results indicate that the basic social behaviors typically mediated by the AVP/OT pathways may provide the building blocks necessary for monogamous mating behavior. ?? 2010 Elsevier Inc.
Sexual selection on male coloration has been implicated in the evolution of colourful species flocks of East African cichlid fish. During adaptive radiations, animals diverge in multiple phenotypic traits, but the role of physiology has received limited attention. Here, we report how divergence in physiology may contribute to the stable coexistence of two hybridizing incipient species of cichlid fish from Lake Victoria. Males of Pundamilia nyererei (males are red) tend to defeat those of Pundamilia pundamilia (males are blue), yet the two sibling species coexist in nature. It has been suggested that red males bear a physiological cost that might offset their dominance advantage. We tested the hypothesis that the two species differ in oxidative stress levels and immune function and that this difference is correlated with differences in circulating steroid levels. We manipulated the social context and found red males experienced significantly higher oxidative stress levels than blue males, but only in a territorial context when colour and aggression are maximally expressed. Red males exhibited greater aggression levels and lower humoral immune response than blue males, but no detectable difference in steroid levels. Red males appear to trade off increased aggressiveness with physiological costs, contributing to the coexistence of the two species. Correlated divergence in colour, behaviour and physiology might be widespread in the dramatically diverse cichlid radiations in East African lakes and may play a crucial role in the remarkably rapid speciation of these fish.
Social life affects brain function at all levels, including gene expression, neurochemical balance, and neural circuits. We have previously shown that in the cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni brightly colored, socially dominant (DOM) males face a trade-off between reproductive opportunities and increased predation risk. Compared with camouflaged subordinate (SUB) males, DOMs exposed to a loud sound pip display higher startle responsiveness and increased excitability of the Mauthner cell (M-cell) circuit that governs this behavior. Using behavioral tests, intracellular recordings, and single-cell molecular analysis, we show here that serotonin (5-HT) modulates this socially regulated plasticity via the 5-HT receptor subtype 2 (5-HTR(2)). Specifically, SUBs display increased sensitivity to pharmacological manipulation of 5-HTR(2) compared with DOMs in both startle-escape behavior and electrophysiological properties of the M-cell. Immunohistochemistry showed serotonergic varicosities around the M-cells, further suggesting that 5-HT impinges directly onto the startle-escape circuitry. To determine whether the effects of 5-HTR(2) are pre- or postsynaptic, and whether other 5-HTR subtypes are involved, we harvested the mRNA from single M-cells via cytoplasmic aspiration and found that 5-HTR subtypes 5A and 6 are expressed in the M-cell. 5-HTR(2), however, was absent, suggesting that it affects M-cell excitability through a presynaptic mechanism. These results are consistent with a role for 5-HT in modulating startle plasticity and increase our understanding of the neural and molecular basis of a trade-off between reproduction and predation.
The behavioural patterns observed in many organisms generally resultfromthe integration ofbothexternaland internal cues. Why do animals behave the way they do? The study of the proximate and ultimate mechanisms underlying animal behaviour tries to answer this ques- tion. Although various approaches have been developed for examining – often quantitatively and with increasing specificity and resolution – the roles genes play in the regulation of behaviour, until recently they were limited to individual candidate genes and often neglected ultim- ate mechanisms. Advances in genomic approaches in recent years have made it possible to examine gene expression patterns (in the brain and elsewhere) on a genomicscale even in nontraditional, yet ecologicallyand evolutionarily important model systems. As behavioural genomics begins to integrate proximate and ultimate mechanisms of animal behaviour, we may finally under- stand why animals behave the way they do.
Many aquatic species, such as teleosts, release into the water and detect multiple bioactive substances to assist in schooling, migration, alarm reactions, and to stimulate behavioral and physiological responses during reproduction and in parent-offspring interactions. Understanding the complex relationship between hormones, behavior and their function in communication requires the simultaneous examination of multiple circulating hormones. However, repeated blood sampling within a short time period is not possible in smaller animals without impacting the very behaviors under investigation. The non-invasive technique of collecting and measuring hormone values in holding water using either radioimmunoassay (RIA) or enzyme immunoassay (EIA) is becoming widely used in teleost research. Commercial assay kits in particular enable rapid and reliable data generation, yet their assay buffers are often specific and potentially incompatible with each other, which can hinder measuring multiple hormones from the same sample. We present here the validation and application of a "nested" elution technique we developed that allows for repeated sampling of multiple reproductive hormones - testosterone (T), 17??-estradiol (E2), progesterone (P), prostaglandin F2?? (PGF) and 11-ketotestosterone (11KT) - from individual samples of animal holding water by using commercial EIA systems. Our results show that when using appropriate controls to account for possible technical and biological confounds, this technique provides a powerful new tool for research in aquatic endocrinology and physiology. ?? 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Animals are remarkably well equipped to respond to changes in their environment across different time scales and levels of biological organization. Here, I introduce a novel perspective that incorporates the three main processes the nervous system uses to integrate and process information: electrophysiological, genomic, and neuroendocrine action potentials. After discussing several examples of neuroendocrine action potentials, I lay out the commonalities of these temporally organized responses and how they might be interrelated with electrophysiological activity and genomic responses. This framework provides a novel outlook on longstanding questions in behavioral neuroendocrinology and suggests exciting new avenues for further research that will integrate across disciplines and levels of biological organization. ?? 2010 Elsevier Inc.
Phenotypic evolution may occur either through alterations to the structure of protein-coding genes or their expression. Evidence for which of these two mechanisms more commonly contribute to the evolution of a phenotype can be garnered from examples of parallel and convergent evolution. The visual system of East African cichlid fishes is an excellent system with which to address this question. Cichlid fishes from Lakes Malawi (LM) and Victoria together exhibit three diverse palettes of coexpressed opsins and several important protein-coding mutations that both shift spectral sensitivity. Here we assess both opsin expression and protein-coding diversity among cichlids from a third rift lake, Lake Tanganyika (LT). We found that Tanganyikan cichlids exhibit three palettes of coexpressed opsins that largely overlap the short-, middle-, and long-wavelength-sensitive palettes of LM cichlids. Bayesian phenotypic clustering and ancestral state reconstructions both support the parallel evolution of the short- and middle-wavelength palettes among cichlids from LT and LM. In each case, these transitions occurred from different ancestors that expressed the same long-wavelength palette. We also identified similar but distinct patterns of correlated evolution between opsin expression, diet, and lens transmittance among cichlids from LT and LM as well. In contrast to regulatory changes, we identified few functional or potentially functional mutations in the protein-coding sequences of three variable opsins, with the possible exception of the SWS1 (ultraviolet) opsin. These results underscore the important contribution that gene regulation can make to rapid phenotypic evolution and adaptation.
Ecological context, sensory inputs, and the internal physiological state are all factors that need to be integrated for an animal to make appropriate behavioral decisions. However, these factors have rarely been studied in the same system. In the African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni, males alternate between two phenotypes based on position in a social hierarchy. When dominant (DOM), fish display bright body coloration and a wealth of aggressive and reproductive behavioral patterns that make them conspicuous to predators. Subordinate (SUB) males, on the other hand, decrease predation risk by adopting cryptic coloration and schooling behavior. We therefore hypothesized that DOMs would show enhanced startle-escape responsiveness to compensate for their increased predation risk. Indeed, behavioral responses to sound clicks of various intensities showed a significantly higher mean startle rate in DOMs compared with SUBs. Electrophysiological recordings from the Mauthner cells (M-cells), the neurons triggering startle, were performed in anesthetized animals and showed larger synaptic responses to sound clicks in DOMs, consistent with the behavioral results. In addition, the inhibitory drive mediated by interneurons (passive hyperpolarizing potential [PHP] cells) presynaptic to the M-cell was significantly reduced in DOMs. Taken together, the results suggest that the likelihood for an escape to occur for a given auditory stimulus is higher in DOMs because of a more excitable M-cell. More broadly, this study provides an integrative explanation of an ecological and social trade-off at the level of an identifiable decision-making neural circuit.