Serotonin in a Diencephalic Nucleus Controlling Communication in an Electric Fish: Sexual Dimorphism and Relationship to Indicators of Dominance

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Abstract

Serotonin regulates aggressive behavior. The production or release of serotonin is sexually dimorphic and related to social rank in many species. We examined serotonin expression in the central posterior/prepacemaker nucleus (CP/PPn) of the electric fishApteronotus leptorhynchus.The CP/PPn is a thalamic nucleus that controls agonistic and reproductive electrocommunication signals known as chirps and gradual frequency rises. In parts of the CP/PPn that control chirping, females had more than twice as many serotonergic fibers and terminals as did males. Serotonin immunoreactivity in chirp-controlling areas of the CP/PPn was also negatively correlated with two indicators of dominance: electric organ discharge (EOD) frequency and body mass. Within sexes, the negative correlation between EOD frequency and serotonergic innervation of the PPn was significant in females, but not in males. Females with higher EOD frequencies had less serotonin in the CP/PPn than did females with lower EOD frequencies. Thus, the CP/PPn contained more serotonin in females than in males, and in particular, more serotonin in females with EOD frequencies typical of social subordinates than in females with EOD frequencies typical of social dominants. These results, combined with previous findings that serotonin inhibits chirping and that females chirp much less than males, suggest that serotonin may link sex, social rank, and the production of agonistic communication signals. The relative simplicity of the neural circuits that control the EOD and chirping make the electromotor system well-suited for studying the cellular, physiological, and behavioral mechanisms by which serotonin modulates agonistic communication.

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