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Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

In an African cichlid fish, Astatotilapia burtoni, fertile females select a mate and perform a stereotyped spawning / mating routine, offering quantifiable behavioral outputs of neural circuits. A male fish attracts a fertile female by rapidly quivering his brightly colored body. If she chooses him, he guides her back to his territory, where he quivers some more as she pecks at fish egg–colored spots on his anal fin. Next, she lays eggs and quickly scoops them up in her mouth. With a mouthful of eggs, she continues pecking at the male’s spots, “believing” them to be eggs to be collected. As she does, he releases sperm from near his anal fin, which she also gathers. This fertilizes the eggs, and she carries the embryos in her mouth for two weeks as they develop.

 

But, the question was how these females can time their reproduction to coincide with when they are fertile. The female fish will not approach or choose males until they are ready to reproduce, so there must be something in their brains that signals when sexual behavior will be required. The scientists began by considering signaling molecules previously associated with sexual behavior and reproduction, and showed that PGF2α injection activates a naturalistic pattern of sexual behavior in female Astatotilapia burtoni. They would engage in mating behavior even if they were non-fertile, doing the quiver dance with males, but wouldn’t actually lay eggs since they had none.

 

The scientists also identified cells in the brain that transduce the prostaglandin signal to mate and showed that the gonadal steroid 17α, 20β-dihydroxyprogesterone modulates mRNA levels of the putative receptor for PGF2α. The scientists keyed in on a receptor for PGF2α in the preoptic area (POA) within the hypothalamus of the brain, a region involved in sexual behavior across animals. They suspected that when PGF2α levels elevated in the fish, the molecule attaches to this receptor and triggers sexual behavior. Then they used CRISPR/Cas9 to generate PGF2α receptor knockout fish. This gene deletion or knockout uncoupled the sexual behavior from fertility status to prove that the receptor of PGF2α is necessary for the initiation of sexual behavior.

 

The finding has parallels across all vertebrates, and might influence the understanding of social behavior in humans. The next steps for this work will involve understanding other behaviors that are regulated by this receptor, and the finding provides insight into both the evolution of reproduction and sexual behaviors. In mammals and other vertebrates, PGF2α promotes the onset of labor and motherly behaviors, and this present research, coupled with other studies, suggests that PGF2α signaling has a common ancestral function associated with birth and its related behaviors.

 

References:

 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26996507

 

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2016/march/fish-mating-behavior-031716.html

 

 

http://www.academia.edu/676252/The_Genetics_of_Female_Sexual_Behaviour

 

https://scifeeds.com/news/scientists-identify-genetic-switch-for-female-sexual-behavior/

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