The mate choice brain: comparing gene profiles between female choice and male coercive poeciliids

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Genes that mediate mate preferences potentially play a key role in promoting and maintaining biological diversity. In this study, we compare mate preference behavior in two related poeciliid fishes with contrasting behavioral phenotypes and relate these behavioral differences to gene profiles in the brain. Results reveal that one poeciliid fish, the Northern swordtail, exhibits robust mate preference as compared to the Western mosquitofish, which utilizes a coercive mating system. Female swordtails display no significant difference in association time between male- and female-exposure trials, whereas female mosquitofish spend significantly less time associating with males relative to females. Furthermore, the preference strength for large males is significantly lower in female mosquitofish relative to swordtails. We then examine expression of three candidate genes previously shown to be associated with mate preference behavior in female swordtails and linked to neural plasticity in other vertebrates:neuroserpin(NS),neuroligin-3(NLG-3) andN-methyl-d-aspartate receptor(NMDA-R). Whole brain gene expression patterns reveal that two genes (NS and NLG-3) are positively associated with mate preference behavior in female swordtails, a pattern opposing that of the mosquitofish. In mosquitofish females, these genes are downregulated when females express biases toward males yet are elevated in association with total motor activity patterns under asocial conditions, suggesting that the presence of males in mosquitofish species may inhibit expression of these genes. Both gene expression and female behavioral responses to males exhibit opposing patterns between these species, suggesting that this genetic pathway may potentially act as a substrate for the evolution of mate preference behavior.

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