Species-specific patterns of nonapeptide brain gene expression relative to pair-bonding behavior in grouping and non-grouping cichlids Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Comparative studies have revealed that vasopressin-oxytocin pathways are associated with both pair bonding and grouping behavior. However, the relationship between pair bonding and grouping behavior remains unclear. In this study, our aim was to identify whether two species that differ in grouping behavior display a corresponding difference in their pair bonds, and in the underlying vasopressin-oxytocin hormonal pathways. Using two species of cichlid fishes, the highly social Neolamprologus pulcher and the non-social Telmatochromis temporalis, we measured proximity of pairs during pair bond formation, and then measured social behaviors (proximity, aggression, submission, affiliation) and brain gene expression of isotocin and arginine vasotocin (the teleost homologues of oxytocin and vasopressin, respectively), as well as their receptors, after a temporary separation and subsequent reunion of the bonded pairs. Pairs of the social species spent more time in close proximity relative to the non-social species. Rates of aggression increased in both species following the separation and reunion treatment, relative to controls that were not separated. Overall, whole brain expression of isotocin was higher in the social species relative to the non-social species, and correlated with proximity, submission, and affiliation, but only in the social species. Our results suggest that both a social and a non-social cichlid species have similar behavioral responses to a temporary separation from a mate, and we found no difference in the brain gene expression of measured hormones and receptors based on our separation-reunion treatment. However, our results highlight the importance of isotocin in mediating submissive and affiliative behaviors in cichlid fishes, and demonstrate that isotocin has species-specific correlations with socially relevant behaviors.


  • O'Connor, Constance M
  • Marsh-Rollo, Susan E
  • Aubin-Horth, Nadia
  • Balshine, Sigal

publication date

  • April 2016