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Horm Behav. 2012 Jul;62(2):107-12. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2012.05.005. Epub 2012 May 18.

Testosterone rapidly increases ejaculate volume and sperm density in competitively breeding goldfish through an estrogenic membrane receptor mechanism.

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Department of Psychology, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME 04011‐8469, USA.


The social environment can have dramatic influences on reproductive behavior and physiology in many vertebrate species. In males, interactions with conspecifics affect physiological processes that increase an individual's ability to compete for mates. For example, in some species, males rapidly adjust the number of sperm they ejaculate in response to sociosexual cues from male and female conspecifics, however, little is known about the physiological mechanisms mediating this behavior. In goldfish, as in many vertebrates, social cues also drive transient surges of the gonadal hormone testosterone (T), which induces rapid effects on cellular processes via its conversion to estradiol (E2). We asked whether such surges rapidly influence ejaculate quantity and quality by experimentally manipulating peripheral levels of T and E2. We show that male goldfish injected with T increased ejaculate (milt) volume and sperm density within just 1 hr. Furthermore, increases in expressible milt were dependent on the conversion of T to E2 by the enzyme aromatase, required activation of estrogen receptors α and β, and were also elicited by BSA-conjugated E2, which acts on cell membrane-bound estrogen receptors. Together, these findings represent a novel steroid mechanism for the social modulation of sperm output over the short time scales that characterize reproductive encounters, and thus demonstrate a previously undescribed functional consequence of rapid estrogen signaling mechanisms. We suggest that such mechanisms may play a critical role in the enhancement of physiological and behavioral processes that increase reproductive success in competitive mating contexts.

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