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J Neurosci. 1997 Aug 15;17(16):6463-9.

Stress and dominance in a social fish.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Many aspects of reproductive physiology are subject to regulation by social interactions. These include changes in neural and physiological substrates of reproduction. How can social behavior produce such changes? In experiments reported here, we manipulated the social settings of teleost fish and measured the effect (1) on stress response as reflected in cortisol production, (2) on reproductive potential as measured in production of the signaling peptide, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, and (3) on reproductive function measured in gonad size. Our results reveal that the level of the stress hormone cortisol depends critically on both the social and reproductive status of an individual fish and on the stability of its social situation. Moreover, the reproductive capacity of an individual fish depends on these same variables. These results show that social encounters within particular social contexts have a profound effect on the stress levels as well as on reproductive competence. Social behavior may lead to changes in reproductive state through integration of cortisol changes in time. Thus, information available from the stress pathway may provide socially relevant signals to produce neural change.

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