While the neural circuitry and physiology of the auditory system is well studied among vertebrates, far less is known about how the auditory system interacts with other neural substrates to mediate behavioral responses to social acoustic signals. One species that has been the subject of intensive neuroethological investigation with regard to the production and perception of social acoustic signals is the plainfin midshipman fish, Porichthys notatus, in part because acoustic communication is essential to their reproductive behavior. Nesting male midshipman vocally court females by producing a long duration advertisement call. Females localize males by their advertisement call, spawn and deposit all their eggs in their mate’s nest. As multiple courting males establish nests in close proximity to one another, the perception of another male’s call may modulate individual calling behavior in competition for females. We tested the hypothesis that nesting males exposed to advertisement calls of other males would show elevated neural activity in auditory and vocal-acoustic brain centers as well as differential activation of catecholaminergic neurons compared to males exposed only to ambient noise. Experimental brains were then double labeled by immunofluorescence (-ir) for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), an enzyme necessary for catecholamine synthesis, and cFos, an immediate-early gene product used as a marker for neural activation. Males exposed to other advertisement calls showed a significantly greater percentage of TH-ir cells colocalized with cFos-ir in the noradrenergic locus coeruleus and the dopaminergic periventricular posterior tuberculum, as well as increased numbers of cFos-ir neurons in several levels of the auditory and vocal-acoustic pathway. Increased activation of catecholaminergic neurons may serve to coordinate appropriate behavioral responses to male competitors. Additionally, these results implicate a role for specific catecholaminergic neuronal groups in auditory-driven social behavior in fishes, consistent with a conserved function in social acoustic behavior across vertebrates.
Petersen, C. L., Timothy, M., Kim, D. S., Bhandiwad, A. A., Mohr, R. A., Sisneros, J. A. & Forlano, P. M. (2013). Exposure to Advertisement Calls of Reproductive Competitors Activates Vocal-Acoustic and Catecholaminergic Neurons in the Plainfin Midshipman Fish, Porichthys notatus. PLoS ONE, 8(8), e70474. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070474.