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J Exp Biol. 2010 Oct 15;213(Pt 20):3463-72. doi: 10.1242/jeb.043992.

Sexually dimorphic sensory gating drives behavioral differences in tungara frogs.

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Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station C0930, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Males and females can differ both in the social behaviors they perform and in the contexts in which they engage in these behaviors. One possible mechanism of sex differences in behavior is a sexual dimorphism in the relay of sensory information to motor areas, but no studies have examined the role of such a relay in vertebrate sexually dimorphic behaviors. We used egr-1 expression as a marker of neural activation in frogs exposed to conspecific and heterospecific acoustic signals to compare activation patterns throughout the brains of males and females. We determined how the sexes differ in the transformation of social signals into motor responses in the context of social communication. We examined the relationships between egr-1 mRNA levels in the auditory midbrain and forebrain areas, as well as how forebrain expression related to the behavioral responses of the animals. Forebrain network activation patterns and forebrain-behavior relationships were similar in males and females. By contrast, we found a sex difference in the relationship between midbrain and forebrain activation; midbrain auditory responses predicted forebrain responses in females but not in males. This sex difference suggests that sensory inputs differentially regulate motor systems underlying social behaviors in males and females. This sensorimotor transformation may be a common locus for generating sex differences in behavior.

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