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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Feb 22;275(1633):393-402.

Sexual and social stimuli elicit rapid and contrasting genomic responses.

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Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Sensory physiology has been shown to influence female mate choice, yet little is known about the mechanisms within the brain that regulate this critical behaviour. Here we examine preference behaviour of 58 female swordtails, Xiphophorus nigrensis, in four different social environments (attractive and unattractive males, females only, non-attractive males only and asocial conditions) followed by neural gene expression profiling. We used a brain-specific cDNA microarray to identify patterns of genomic response and candidate genes, followed by quantitative PCR (qPCR) examination of gene expression with variation in behaviour. Our microarray results revealed patterns of genomic response differing more between classes of social stimuli than between presence versus absence of stimuli. We identified suites of genes showing diametrically opposed patterns of expression: genes that are turned 'on' while females interact with attractive males are turned 'off' when interacting with other females, and vice versa. Our qPCR results identified significant predictive relationships between five candidate genes and specific mate choice behaviours (preference and receptivity) across females exposed to males, with no significant patterns identified in female or asocial conditions or with overall locomotor activity. The identification of stimulus- and behaviour-specific responses opens an exciting window into the molecular pathways associated with social behaviour and mechanisms that underlie sexual selection.

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