Research Resource: Hormones, Genes, and Athleticism

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Male vertebrate social displays vary from physically simple to complex, with the latter involving exquisite motor command of the body and appendages. Studies of these displays have, in turn, provided substantial insight into neuromotor mechanisms. The neotropical golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus) has been used previously as a model to investigate intricate motor skills because adult males of this species perform an acrobatic and androgen-dependent courtship display. To support this behavior, these birds express elevated levels of androgen receptors (AR) in their skeletal muscles. Here we use RNA sequencing to explore how testosterone (T) modulates the muscular transcriptome to support male manakin courtship displays. In addition, we explore how androgens influence gene expression in the muscles of the zebra finch (Taenopygia guttata), a model passerine bird with a limited courtship display and minimal muscle AR. We identify androgen-dependent, muscle-specific gene regulation in both species. In addition, we identify manakin-specific effects that are linked to muscle use during the manakin display, including androgenic regulation of genes associated with muscle fiber contractility, cellular homeostasis, and energetic efficiency. Overall, our results point to numerous genes and gene networks impacted by androgens in male birds, including some that underlie optimal muscle function necessary for performing acrobatic display routines. Manakins are excellent models to explore gene regulation promoting athletic ability.

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