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Integr Comp Biol. 2015 Aug;55(2):307-22. doi: 10.1093/icb/icv041. Epub 2015 May 16.

The Need for Speed: Neuroendocrine Regulation of Socially-controlled Sex Change.

Author information

1
*Department of Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA; W.M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA;
2
Department of Anatomy, University of Otago, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand.
3
*Department of Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA; W.M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA; john_godwin@ncsu.edu.

Abstract

Socially-controlled functional sex change in fishes is a dramatic example of adaptive reproductive plasticity. Functional gonadal sex change can occur within a week while behavioral sex change can begin within minutes. Significant progress has been made in understanding the neuroendocrine bases of this phenomenon at both the gonadal and the neurobiological levels, but a detailed mechanistic understanding remains elusive. We are working with sex-changing wrasses to identify evolutionarily-conserved neuroendocrine pathways underlying this reproductive adaptation. One key model is the bluehead wrasse (Thalassoma bifasciatum), in which sex change is well studied at the behavioral, ecological, and neuroendocrine levels. Bluehead wrasses show rapid increases in aggressive and courtship behaviors with sex change that do not depend on the presence of gonads. The display of male-typical behavior is correlated with the expression of arginine vasotocin, and experiments support a role for this neuropeptide. Estrogen synthesis is also critical in the process. Female bluehead wrasses have higher abundance of aromatase mRNA in the brain and gonads, and estrogen implants block behavioral sex change. While established methods have advanced our understanding of sex change, a full understanding will require new approaches and perspectives. First, contributions of other neuroendocrine systems should be better characterized, particularly glucocorticoid and thyroid signaling. Second, advances in genomics for non-traditional model species should allow conserved mechanisms to be identified with a key next-step being manipulative tests of these mechanisms. Finally, advances in genomics now also allow study of the role of epigenetic modifications and other regulatory mechanisms in the dramatic alterations across the sex-change process.

PMID:
25980565
DOI:
10.1093/icb/icv041
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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