From molecule to behavior: Brain aromatase (cyp19a1b) characterization, expression analysis and its relation with social status and male agonistic behavior in a Neotropical cichlid fish

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The enzyme aromatase, responsible for the conversion of C19 androgens to C18 estrogens, exists as two paralogue copies in teleost fish: Cyp19a1a mostly expressed in the gonads, referred as gonadal aromatase, and Cyp19a1b, mostly expressed in the brain, accordingly known as brain aromatase. The neural localization of Cyp19a1b is greatly contained within the social behavior network and mesolimbic reward system in fish, suggesting a strong role of estrogen synthesis in the regulation of social behavior. In this work we aimed to analyze the variation in cyp19a1b expression in brain and pituitary of males of a highly social cichlid, Cichlasoma dimerus (locally known as chanchita), and its relation with inter-individual variability in agonistic behavior in a communal social environment. We first characterized chanchita's cyp19a1b mRNA and deduced amino acid sequence, which showed a high degree of conservation when compared to other teleost brain aromatase sequences, and its tissue expression patterns. Within the brain, Cyp19a1b was solely detected at putative radial glial cells of the forebrain, close to the brain ventricles. We then studied the relative expression levels of cyp19a1b by Real Time PCR in the brain and pituitary of males of different social status, territorial vs. non-territorial, and its relationship with an index of agonistic behavior. We found that even though, brain aromatase expression did not differ between types of males, pituitary cyp19a1b expression levels positively correlated with the index of agonistic behavior. This suggests a novel role of the pituitary in the regulation of social behavior by local estrogen synthesis.

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