Friday, December 17, 2010

Female genes respond to winners versus losers

In a cichlid fish, that is, but I'll bet it's happening in humans too. When a male mate a female has chosen is a winner in a male-male competition, reproductive center genes are activated; when he is a loser, anxiety-like response center genes are activated. From Russ Fernald's group:
Females should be choosier than males about prospective mates because of the high costs of inappropriate mating decisions. Both theoretical and empirical studies have identified factors likely to influence female mate choices. However, male–male social interactions also can affect mating decisions, because information about a potential mate can trigger changes in female reproductive physiology. We asked how social information about a preferred male influenced neural activity in females, using immediate early gene (IEG) expression as a proxy for brain activity. A gravid female cichlid fish (Astatotilapia burtoni) chose between two socially equivalent males and then saw fights between these two males in which her preferred male either won or lost. We measured IEG expression levels in several brain nuclei including those in the vertebrate social behavior network (SBN), a collection of brain nuclei known to be important in social behavior. When the female saw her preferred male win a fight, SBN nuclei associated with reproduction were activated, but when she saw her preferred male lose a fight, the lateral septum, a nucleus associated with anxiety, was activated instead. Thus social information alone, independent of actual social interactions, activates specific brain regions that differ significantly depending on what the female sees. In female brains, reproductive centers are activated when she chooses a winner, and anxiety-like response centers are activated when she chooses a loser. These experiments assessing the role of mate-choice information on the brain using a paradigm of successive presentations of mate information suggest ways to understand the consequences of social information on animals using IEG expression.

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