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PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51158. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051158. Epub 2012 Dec 10.

Differential responses of brain, gonad and muscle steroid levels to changes in social status and sex in a sequential and bidirectional hermaphroditic fish.

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  • 1Department of Biology and Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA. varenka.lorenzi@csulb.edu


Sex steroids can both modulate and be modulated by behavior, and their actions are mediated by complex interactions among multiple hormone sources and targets. While gonadal steroids delivered via circulation can affect behavior, changes in local brain steroid synthesis also can modulate behavior. The relative steroid load across different tissues and the association of these levels with rates of behavior have not been well studied. The bluebanded goby (Lythrypnus dalli) is a sex changing fish in which social status determines sexual phenotype. We examined changes in steroid levels in brain, gonad and body muscle at either 24 hours or 6 days after social induction of protogynous sex change, and from individuals in stable social groups not undergoing sex change. For each tissue, we measured levels of estradiol (E(2)), testosterone (T) and 11-ketotestosterone (KT). Females had more T than males in the gonads, and more E(2) in all tissues but there was no sex difference in KT. For both sexes, E(2) was higher in the gonad than in other tissues while androgens were higher in the brain. During sex change, brain T levels dropped while brain KT increased, and brain E(2) levels did not change. We found a positive relationship between androgens and aggression in the most dominant females but only when the male was removed from the social group. The results demonstrate that steroid levels are responsive to changes in the social environment, and that their concentrations vary in different tissues. Also, we suggest that rapid changes in brain androgen levels might be important in inducing behavioral and/or morphological changes associated with protogynous sex change.

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