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Endocrinology. 2011 Jan;152(1):291-302. doi: 10.1210/en.2010-0876. Epub 2010 Nov 17.

Plasticity of the reproductive axis caused by social status change in an african cichlid fish: II. testicular gene expression and spermatogenesis.

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Stanford University, Department of Biology, 371 Serra Mall, Stanford, California 94041, USA.


Reproduction in all vertebrates is controlled by the brain-pituitary-gonad (BPG) axis, which is regulated socially in males of the African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni. Although social information influences GnRH1 neurons at the apex of the BPG axis, little is known about how the social environment and dominance affects the cellular and molecular composition of the testes to regulate reproductive capacity. We created an opportunity for reproductively suppressed males to ascend in status and then measured changes in gene expression and tissue morphology to discover how quickly the perception of this opportunity can influence the testes. Our results show rapid up-regulation of mRNA levels of FSH receptor and several steroid receptor subtypes in the testes during social ascent. In contrast, LH receptor was not elevated until 72 h after ascent, but this increase was coincident with elevated circulating androgens and early stages of spermatogenesis, suggesting a role in steroidogenesis. The spermatogenic potential of the testes, as measured by cellular composition, was also elevated before the overall increase in testes size. The presence of cysts at all stages of spermatogenesis, coupled with lower levels of gonadotropin and steroid receptors in subordinate males, suggests that the BPG axis and spermatogenesis are maintained at a subthreshold level in anticipation of the chance to gain a territory and become reproductively active. Our results show that the testis is stimulated extremely quickly after perception of social opportunity, presumably to allow suppressed males to rapidly achieve high reproductive success in a dynamic social environment.

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