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Curr Biol. 2016 Oct 10;26(19):2681-2689. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.07.079. Epub 2016 Sep 22.

"Singing" Fish Rely on Circadian Rhythm and Melatonin for the Timing of Nocturnal Courtship Vocalization.

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Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.
Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. Electronic address:


The patterning of social acoustic signaling at multiple timescales, from day-night rhythms to acoustic temporal properties, enhances sender-receiver coupling and reproductive success [1-8]. In diurnal birds, the nocturnal production of melatonin, considered the major vertebrate timekeeping hormone [9, 10], suppresses vocal activity but increases song syllable duration over circadian and millisecond timescales, respectively [11, 12]. Comparable studies are lacking for nocturnal vertebrates, including many teleost fish species that are also highly vocal during periods of reproduction [4, 13-20]. Utilizing continuous sound recordings, light cycle manipulations, hormone implants, and in situ hybridization, we demonstrate in a nocturnally breeding teleost fish that (1) courtship vocalization exhibits an endogenous circadian rhythm under constant dark conditions that is suppressed under constant light, (2) exogenous delivery of a melatonin analog under inhibitory constant light conditions rescues courtship vocal activity as well as the duration of single calls, and (3) melatonin receptor 1b is highly expressed in evolutionarily conserved neuroendocrine and vocal-acoustic networks crucial for patterning reproductive and vocal behaviors in fishes and tetrapods. Our findings, together with those in birds, show melatonin's remarkable versatility as a timing signal in distantly related lineages. It exerts opposing effects on vocalization in nocturnal versus diurnal species at the circadian timescale but comparable effects at the finer timescale of acoustic features. We propose that melatonin's separable effects at different timescales depends on its actions within distinct neural networks that control circadian rhythms, reproduction, and vocalization, which may be selected upon over evolutionary time as dissociable modules to pattern and coordinate social behaviors. VIDEO ABSTRACT.


circadian rhythms; fish; melatonin; vocalization

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