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Biol Lett. 2009 Aug 23;5(4):554-6. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0316. Epub 2009 Jun 3.

Dynamic neuromodulation of aggression by vasotocin: influence of social context and social phenotype in territorial songbirds.

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Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


The homologous neuropeptides vasotocin (VT) and vasopressin (VP) influence agonistic behaviours across many taxa, but peptide-behaviour relationships are complex and purportedly species-specific. Putative species-specific effects in songbirds are confounded with context, however, such that territorial species have been tested only in resident-intruder paradigms and gregarious species have been tested only in a mate competition paradigm. Using the territorial violet-eared waxbill (Estrildidae: Uraeginthus granatina), we now show that a V(1a) receptor antagonist reduces male aggression during mate competition (as in gregarious finches), but does not affect resident-intruder aggression in dominant males. However, the V(1a) antagonist disinhibits aggression in less aggressive (typically subordinate) males. These results are consistent with recent data on the activation of different VT cell groups during positive and negative social interactions. Thus, VT influences aggression similarly across territorial and gregarious species, but in context- and phenotype-specific ways that probably reflect the differential activation of discrete VT cell groups.

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