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Title: Opsin Expression Varies with Reproductive State in the Cichlid Fish Astatotilapia burtoni

Animals use visual communication to convey crucial information about their identity, reproductive status, and sex. Plasticity in the auditory and olfactory systems has been well-documented, however, fewer studies have tested for plasticity in the visual system, a surprising detail since courtship and mate choice are largely dependent on visual signals across taxa. We previously found reproductive state-dependent plasticity in the eye of the highly social cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni. Male A. burtoni increase their courtship, including multicomponent visual displays, when around ovulated females, and ovulated females are more responsive to male visual courtship displays than non-ovulated females. Based on this, we hypothesized that ovulation status impacts visual capabilities in A. burtoni females. Using electroretinograms, we found that ovulated females had greater visual sensitivity at wavelengths corresponding to male courtship coloration compared with non-reproductively-receptive females. In addition, ovulated females had higher neural activation in the retina and higher mRNA expression levels of neuromodulatory receptors (e.g., sex-steroids; gonadotropins) in the eye than non-ovulated females. Here, we add to this body of work by testing the hypothesis that cone opsin expression changes with female reproductive state. Ovulated females had higher expression of short wavelength sensitive opsins (sws1, sws2a, sws2b) compared with mouthbrooding more » females. Further, expression of sws2a, the most abundant opsin in the A. burtoni eye, positively correlated with levels of circulating 11-ketotestosterone and estradiol and estrogen, androgen, and gonadotropin system receptor expression in the eye in females. These data indicate that reproductive state-dependent plasticity also occurs at the level of photoreceptors, not just through modulation of visual signals at downstream retinal layers. Collectively, these data provide crucial evidence linking endocrine modulation of visual plasticity to mate choice behaviors in females.

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Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Integrative and Comparative Biology
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 240-248
Oxford University Press
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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