Steroid-dependent auditory plasticity for the enhancement of acoustic communication: Recent insights from a vocal teleost fish

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The vocal plainfin midshipman fish (Porichthys notatus) has become an excellent model for identifying neural mechanisms of auditory perception that may be shared by all vertebrates. Recent neuroethological studies of the midshipman fish have yielded strong evidence for the steroid-dependent modulation of hearing sensitivity that leads to enhanced coupling of sender and receiver in this vocal-acoustic communication system. Previous work shows that non-reproductive females treated with either testosterone or 17β-estradiol exhibit an increase in the degree of temporal encoding by the auditory saccular afferents to the dominant frequency content of male vocalizations produced during social-reproductive behaviors. The expanded frequency sensitivity of steroid treated females mimics the reproductive female's auditory phenotype and is proposed to improve the detection and localization of calling conspecific mates during the summer breeding season. This review focuses on the novel form of steroid-dependent auditory plasticity that is found in the adult midshipman fish and its association with the reproductive biology and behavior of this species. Evidence for midshipman reproductive-state and steroid-dependent auditory plasticity is reviewed and the potential mechanisms that lead to this novel form of adaptive plasticity are discussed.

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