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Biol Lett. 2008 Oct 23;4(5):518-21. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2008.0192.

Candidate neural locus for sex differences in reproductive decisions.

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Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station C0930, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Sexual selection and signal detection theories predict that females should be selective in their responses to mating signals in mate choice, while the response of males to signals in male competition should be less selective. The neural processes underlying this behavioural sex difference remain obscure. Differences in behavioural selectivity could result from differences in how sensitive sensory systems are to mating signals, distinct thresholds in motor areas regulating behaviour, or sex differences in selectivity at a gateway relaying sensory information to motor systems. We tested these hypotheses in frogs using the expression of egr-1 to quantify the neural responses of each sex to mating signals. We found that egr-1 expression in a midbrain auditory region was elevated in males in response to both conspecific and heterospecific calls, whereas in females, egr-1 induction occurred only in response to conspecific signals. This differential neural selectivity mirrored the sex differences in behavioural responsiveness to these stimuli. By contrast, egr-1 expression in lower brainstem auditory centres was not different in males and females. Our results support a model in which sex differences in behavioural selectivity arise from sex differences in the neural selectivity in midbrain areas relaying sensory information to the forebrain.

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