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      Unravelling the neurophysiological basis of aggression in a fish model

      research-article
      1 , , 1 , 1 , 1
      BMC Genomics
      BioMed Central

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          Abstract

          Background

          Aggression is a near-universal behaviour with substantial influence on and implications for human and animal social systems. The neurophysiological basis of aggression is, however, poorly understood in all species and approaches adopted to study this complex behaviour have often been oversimplified. We applied targeted expression profiling on 40 genes, spanning eight neurological pathways and in four distinct regions of the brain, in combination with behavioural observations and pharmacological manipulations, to screen for regulatory pathways of aggression in the zebrafish ( Danio rerio), an animal model in which social rank and aggressiveness tightly correlate.

          Results

          Substantial differences occurred in gene expression profiles between dominant and subordinate males associated with phenotypic differences in aggressiveness and, for the chosen gene set, they occurred mainly in the hypothalamus and telencephalon. The patterns of differentially-expressed genes implied multifactorial control of aggression in zebrafish, including the hypothalamo-neurohypophysial-system, serotonin, somatostatin, dopamine, hypothalamo-pituitary-interrenal, hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal and histamine pathways, and the latter is a novel finding outside mammals. Pharmacological manipulations of various nodes within the hypothalamo-neurohypophysial-system and serotonin pathways supported their functional involvement. We also observed differences in expression profiles in the brains of dominant versus subordinate females that suggested sex-conserved control of aggression. For example, in the HNS pathway, the gene encoding arginine vasotocin (AVT), previously believed specific to male behaviours, was amongst those genes most associated with aggression, and AVT inhibited dominant female aggression, as in males. However, sex-specific differences in the expression profiles also occurred, including differences in aggression-associated tryptophan hydroxylases and estrogen receptors.

          Conclusions

          Thus, through an integrated approach, combining gene expression profiling, behavioural analyses, and pharmacological manipulations, we identified candidate genes and pathways that appear to play significant roles in regulating aggression in fish. Many of these are novel for non-mammalian systems. We further present a validated system for advancing our understanding of the mechanistic underpinnings of complex behaviours using a fish model.

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          Most cited references81

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          Oxytocin, vasopressin, and the neurogenetics of sociality.

          There is growing evidence that the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin modulate complex social behavior and social cognition. These ancient neuropeptides display a marked conservation in gene structure and expression, yet diversity in the genetic regulation of their receptors seems to underlie natural variation in social behavior, both between and within species. Human studies are beginning to explore the roles of these neuropeptides in social cognition and behavior and suggest that variation in the genes encoding their receptors may contribute to variation in human social behavior by altering brain function. Understanding the neurobiology and neurogenetics of social cognition and behavior has important implications, both clinically and for society.
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            A unique central tryptophan hydroxylase isoform

            Biochemical Pharmacology, 66(9), 1673-1680
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              Vasopressin: behavioral roles of an "original" neuropeptide.

              Vasopressin (Avp) is mainly synthesized in the magnocellular cells of the hypothalamic supraoptic (SON) and paraventricular nuclei (PVN) whose axons project to the posterior pituitary. Avp is then released into the blood stream upon appropriate stimulation (e.g., hemorrhage or dehydration) to act at the kidneys and blood vessels. The brain also contains several populations of smaller, parvocellular neurons whose projections remain within the brain. These populations are located within the PVN, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), medial amygdala (MeA) and suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Since the 1950s, research examining the roles of Avp in the brain and periphery has intensified. The development of specific agonists and antagonists for Avp receptors has allowed for a better elucidation of its contributions to physiology and behavior. Anatomical, pharmacological and transgenic, including "knockout," animal studies have implicated Avp in the regulation of various social behaviors across species. Avp plays a prominent role in the regulation of aggression, generally of facilitating or promoting it. Affiliation and certain aspects of pair-bonding are also influenced by Avp. Memory, one of the first brain functions of Avp that was investigated, has been implicated especially strongly in social recognition. The roles of Avp in stress, anxiety, and depressive states are areas of active exploration. In this review, we concentrate on the scientific progress that has been made in understanding the role of Avp in regulating these and other behaviors across species. We also discuss the implications for human behavior.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                BMC Genomics
                BMC Genomics
                BioMed Central
                1471-2164
                2010
                16 September 2010
                : 11
                : 498
                Affiliations
                [1 ]School of Biosciences, University of Exeter, Hatherly Laboratories, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, Devon EX4 4PS, UK
                Article
                1471-2164-11-498
                10.1186/1471-2164-11-498
                2996994
                20846403
                b9cccc01-446c-4b59-9f7a-02628ff16be3
                Copyright ©2010 Filby et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                History
                : 19 May 2010
                : 16 September 2010
                Categories
                Research Article

                Genetics
                Genetics

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