Contribution to Special Issue on Fast effects of steroids.
Although we have learned a great deal about the molecular mechanisms through which sex steroids rapidly affect cellular physiology, we still know little about the links between those mechanisms and behavioral output, nor about their functional consequences in natural contexts. In this review, we first briefly discuss the contexts associated with rapid effects of sex steroids on reproductive behaviors and their likely functional outcomes, as well the sensory, motor, and motivational mechanisms associated with those effects. We then discuss our recent studies on the rapid effects of testosterone in goldfish. Those studies indicate that testosterone, through its aromatization and the subsequent activation of estrogen receptors, rapidly stimulates physiological processes related to the release of milt/sperm through likely influences on motor pathways, as well as behavioral responses to female visual stimuli that may reflect, in part, influences on early stages of sensory processing. Such motor and sensory mechanism are likely important for sperm competition and mate detection / tracking, respectively, in competitive mating contexts. We also present preliminary data on rapid effects of testosterone on responses to pheromones that may not involve estrogen receptors, suggesting a dissociation in the receptor mechanisms that mediate behavioral responses in different sensory modalities. Lastly, we briefly discuss the implications of our work on unresolved questions about rapid sex steroid neuromodulation in fish.