Rapid behavioral and genomic responses to social opportunity.

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From primates to bees, social status regulates reproduction. In the cichlid fish Astatotilapia (Haplochromis) burtoni, subordinate males have reduced fertility and must become dominant to reproduce. This increase in sexual capacity is orchestrated by neurons in the preoptic area, which enlarge in response to dominance and increase expression of gonadotropin-releasing hormone 1 (GnRH1), a peptide critical for reproduction. Using a novel behavioral paradigm, we show for the first time that subordinate males can become dominant within minutes of an opportunity to do so, displaying dramatic changes in body coloration and behavior. We also found that social opportunity induced expression of the immediate-early gene egr-1 in the anterior preoptic area, peaking in regions with high densities of GnRH1 neurons, and not in brain regions that express the related peptides GnRH2 and GnRH3. This genomic response did not occur in stable subordinate or stable dominant males even though stable dominants, like ascending males, displayed dominance behaviors. Moreover, egr-1 in the optic tectum and the cerebellum was similarly induced in all experimental groups, showing that egr-1 induction in the anterior preoptic area of ascending males was specific to this brain region. Because egr-1 codes for a transcription factor important in neural plasticity, induction of egr-1 in the anterior preoptic area by social opportunity could be an early trigger in the molecular cascade that culminates in enhanced fertility and other long-term physiological changes associated with dominance.





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Burmeister, SS, ED Jarvis and RD Fernald (2005). Rapid behavioral and genomic responses to social opportunity. PLoS Biol, 3(11). p. e363. 10.1371/journal.pbio.0030363 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9307.

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Erich David Jarvis

Adjunct Professor in the Deptartment of Neurobiology

Dr. Jarvis' laboratory studies the neurobiology of vocal communication. Emphasis is placed on the molecular pathways involved in the perception and production of learned vocalizations. They use an integrative approach that combines behavioral, anatomical, electrophysiological and molecular biological techniques. The main animal model used is songbirds, one of the few vertebrate groups that evolved the ability to learn vocalizations. The generality of the discoveries is tested in other vocal learning orders, such as parrots and hummingbirds, as well as non-vocal learners, such as pigeons and non-human primates. Some of the questions require performing behavior/molecular biology experiments in freely ranging animals, such as hummingbirds in tropical forest of Brazil. Recent results show that in songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds, perception and production of song are accompanied by anatomically distinct patterns of gene expression. All three groups were found to exhibit vocally-activated gene expression in exactly 7 forebrain nuclei that are very similar to each other. These structures for vocal learning and production are thought to have evolved independently within the past 70 million years, since they are absent from interrelated non-vocal learning orders. One structure, Area X of the basal ganglia's striatum in songbirds, shows large differential gene activation depending on the social context in which the bird sings. These differences may reflect a semantic content of song, perhaps similar to human language.

The overall goal of the research is to advance knowledge of the neural mechanisms for vocal learning and basic mechanisms of brain function. These goals are further achieved by combined collaborative efforts with the laboratories of Drs. Mooney and Nowicki at Duke University, who study respectively behavior and electrophysiological aspects of songbird vocal communication.

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