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Behav Brain Res. 2010 Dec 1;213(2):208-17. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2010.04.058. Epub 2010 May 11.

Reproductive status regulates expression of sex steroid and GnRH receptors in the olfactory bulb.

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Biology Department, Stanford University, 371 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Neuromodulators including gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and sex steroids help integrate an animal's internal physiological state with incoming external cues, and can have profound effects on the processing of behaviorally relevant information, particularly from the olfactory system. While GnRH and steroid receptors are present in olfactory processing regions across vertebrates, little is known about whether their expression levels change with internal physiological state or external social cues. We used qRT-PCR to measure mRNA levels of two GnRH receptors (GnRH-R1, GnRH-R2), five sex steroid receptors (estrogen receptors: ERalpha, ERbetaa, ERbetab; androgen receptors: ARalpha, ARbeta), and aromatase in the olfactory bulb of the highly social African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni. We asked whether these receptor levels changed with reproductive condition in females, or with social status, which regulates reproductive capacity in males. Our results reveal that mRNA levels of multiple sex steroid, GnRH receptor subtypes, and aromatase in the olfactory bulb vary with sex, social status in males, and reproductive condition in females, which highlights the potential importance of changing receptor levels in fine-tuning the olfactory system during the reproductive cycle. Further, steroid receptor mRNA levels were positively correlated with circulating steroid levels in males, but negatively correlated in females, suggesting different regulatory control between sexes. These results provide support for the hypothesis that the first-order olfactory relay station is a substrate for both GnRH and sex steroid modulation, and suggest that changes in receptor levels could be an important mechanism for regulating reproductive, social, and seasonal plasticity in olfactory perception observed across vertebrates.

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