Fighting Assessment Triggers Rapid Changes in Activity of the Brain Social Decision-Making Network of Cichlid Fish.
ABSTRACT: Social living animals have to adjust their behavior to rapid changes in the social environment. It has been hypothesized that the expression of social behavior is better explained by the activity pattern of a diffuse social decision-making network (SDMN) in the brain than by the activity of a single brain region. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that it is the assessment that individuals make of the outcome of the fights, rather than the expression of aggressive behavior per se, that triggers changes in the pattern of activation of the SDMN which are reflected in socially driven behavioral profiles (e.g., dominant vs. subordinate specific behaviors). For this purpose, we manipulated the perception of the outcome of an agonistic interaction in an African cichlid fish (Oreochromis mossambicus) and assessed if either the perception of outcome or fighting by itself was sufficient to trigger rapid changes in the activity of the SDMN. We have used the expression of immediate early genes (c-fos and egr-1) as a proxy to measure the neuronal activity in the brain. Fish fought their own image on a mirror for 15 min after which they were allocated to one of three conditions for the two last minutes of the trial: (1) they remained fighting the mirror image (no outcome treatment); (2) the mirror was lifted and a dominant male that had just won a fight was presented behind a transparent partition (perception of defeat treatment); and (3) the mirror was lifted and a subordinate male that had just lost a fight was presented behind a transparent partition (perception of victory treatment). Results show that these short-term social interactions elicit distinct patterns in the SDMN and that the perception of the outcome was not a necessary condition to trigger a SDMN response as evidenced in the second treatment (perception of defeat treatment). We suggest that the mutual assessment of relative fighting behavior drives these acute changes in the state of the SDMN.
Project description:Group living animals must be able to express different behavior profiles depending on their social status. Therefore, the same genotype may translate into different behavioral phenotypes through socially driven differential gene expression. However, how social information is translated into a neurogenomic response and what are the specific cues in a social interaction that signal a change in social status are questions that have remained unanswered. Here, we show for the first time, to our knowledge, that the switch between status-specific neurogenomic states relies on the assessment of fight outcome rather than just on self- or opponent-only assessment of fighting ability. For this purpose, we manipulated the perception of fight outcome in male zebrafish and measured its impact on the brain transcriptome using a zebrafish whole genome gene chip. Males fought either a real opponent, and a winner and a loser were identified, or their own image on a mirror, in which case, despite expressing aggressive behavior, males did not experience either a victory or a defeat. Massive changes in the brain transcriptome were observed in real opponent fighters, with losers displaying both a higher number of differentially expressed genes and of coexpressed gene modules than winners. In contrast, mirror fighters expressed a neurogenomic state similar to that of noninteracting fish. The genes that responded to fight outcome included immediate early genes and genes involved in neuroplasticity and epigenetic modifications. These results indicate that, even in cognitively simple organisms such as zebrafish, neurogenomic responses underlying changes in social status rely on mutual assessment of fighting ability.
Project description:Social living animals need to adjust the expression of their behavior to their status within the group and to changes in social context and this ability (social plasticity) has an impact on their Darwinian fitness. At the proximate level social plasticity must rely on neuroplasticity in the brain social decision-making network (SDMN) that underlies the expression of social behavior, such that the same neural circuit may underlie the expression of different behaviors depending on social context. Here we tested this hypothesis in zebrafish by characterizing the gene expression response in the SDMN to changes in social status of a set of genes involved in different types of neural plasticity: bdnf, involved in changes in synaptic strength; npas4, involved in contextual learning and dependent establishment of GABAergic synapses; neuroligins (nlgn1 and nlgn2) as synaptogenesis markers; and genes involved in adult neurogenesis (wnt3 and neurod). Four social phenotypes were experimentally induced: Winners and Losers of a real-opponent interaction; Mirror-fighters, that fight their own image in a mirror and thus do not experience a change in social status despite the expression of aggressive behavior; and non-interacting fish, which were used as a reference group. Our results show that each social phenotype (i.e., Winners, Losers, and Mirror-fighters) present specific patterns of gene expression across the SDMN, and that different neuroplasticity genes are differentially expressed in different nodes of the network (e.g., BDNF in the dorsolateral telencephalon, which is a putative teleost homolog of the mammalian hippocampus). Winners expressed unique patterns of gene co-expression across the SDMN, whereas in Losers and Mirror-fighters the co-expression patterns were similar in the dorsal regions of the telencephalon and in the supracommissural nucleus of the ventral telencephalic area, but differents in the remaining regions of the ventral telencephalon. These results indicate that social plasticity relies on multiple neuroplasticity mechanisms across the SDMN, and that there is not a single neuromolecular module underlying this type of behavioral flexibility.
Project description:Group living animals must be able to express different behavior profiles depending on their social status. This implies that the same genotype may translate into different behavioral phenotypes through socially driven differential gene expression. Here we show for the first time that what triggers the switch between status-specific neurogenomic states is not the objective structure of the social interaction but rather the subjects’ perception of its outcome. For this purpose we had male zebrafish fight either a real opponent or their own image on a mirror. Massive changes in the brain transcriptome were observed in real opponent fighters, which experience either a victory or a defeat. In contrast, mirror fighters, which had no information on fight outcome despite expressing aggressive behavior, failed to activate a neurogenomic response. These results indicate that, even in cognitively simple organisms such as zebrafish, neurogenomic responses underlying changes in social status rely on cognitive appraisal. Brain samples from zebrafish, Danio rerio were collected after experimental manipulations generated 4 phenotypes regarding social experience: mirror fighters (M), winners of a real opponent fight (W), losers of a real opponent fight (L); and socially isolated fish (I). After 30 minutes of experimental manipulation animals were anesthetized with a lethal dose of MS-222 (1000-1500 mg/l) and decapitated. Brains were rapidly collected, homogenized and RNA extracted following standard methods of RNeasy Lipid Tissue Mini Kit, Qiagen. RNA was then treated with DNase (RNase-free DNase set, Qiagen) to remove possible contaminations with genomic DNA and concentration and purity was estimated by spectrophotometric absorbance in a NanoDrop ND-1000 UV-Vis Spectrophotometer (Nano-Drop Technologies).
Project description:The social decision-making network (SDMN) is a conserved neural circuit that modulates a range of social behaviors via context-specific patterns of activation that may be controlled in part by oxytocinergic signaling. We have previously characterized oxytocin's (OT) influence on prosociality in the naked mole-rat, a eusocial mammalian species, and its altered neural distribution between animals of differing social status. Here, we asked two questions: (1) do patterns of activation in the SDMN vary by social context and (2) is functional connectivity of the SDMN altered by OT manipulation? Adult subordinate naked mole-rats were exposed to one of three types of stimuli (three behavioral paradigms: familiar adult conspecific, unfamiliar adult conspecific, or familiar pups) while manipulating OT (three manipulations: saline, OT, or OT antagonist). Immediate early gene c-Fos activity was quantified using immunohistochemistry across SDMN regions. Network analyses indicated that the SDMN is conserved in naked mole-rats and functions in a context-dependent manner. Specific brain regions were recruited with each behavioral paradigm suggesting a role for the nucleus accumbens in social valence and sociosexual interaction, the prefrontal cortex in assessing/establishing social dominance, and the hippocampus in pup recognition. Furthermore, while OT manipulation was generally disruptive to coordinated neural activity, the specific effects were context-dependent supporting the hypothesis that oxytocinergic signaling promotes context appropriate social behaviors by modulating co-ordinated activity of the SDMN.
Project description:Losing a fight (social defeat) induces submissiveness and behavioral depression in many animals, but the mechanisms are unclear. Here we investigate how the social defeat syndrome can be established as a result of experiencing aversive stimuli and the roles of neuromodulators in the process. While biogenic amines and nitric oxide (NO) are associated with reduced aggression in mammals and insects, their specific actions during conflict are unknown. Although the social defeat syndrome normally results from complex interactions, we could induce it in male crickets simply by applying aversive stimuli (AS) in an aggressive context. Aggressive crickets became immediately submissive and behaved like losers after experiencing two brief AS (light wind puffs to the cerci), but only when preceded by a priming stimulus (PS, stroking the antenna with another male antenna). Notably, submissiveness was not induced when the PS preceded the AS by more than 1 min, or when the PS followed the AS, or using a female antenna as the preceding stimulus. These findings suggest that any potentially detrimental stimulus can acquire the attribute of an aversive agonistic signal when experienced in an aggressive context. Crickets, it seems, need only to evaluate their net sensory impact rather than the qualities of a variety of complex agonistic signals. Selective drug treatments revealed that NO, but not serotonin, dopamine or octopamine, is necessary to establish the submissive status following pairing of the priming and aversive stimuli. Moreover, treatment with an NO donor also induced the social defeat syndrome, but only when combined with the PS. This confirms our hypothesis that aversive agonistic experiences accumulated by crickets during fighting invoke social defeat via the action of NO and illustrates that a relatively simple mechanism underlies the seemingly complex social decision to flee. The simple stimulus regime described here for inducing social defeat opens new avenues for investigating the cellular control of subordinate behavior and post-conflict depression.
Project description:Gene expression profiles in the periaqueductal gray (PAG) of adult Long-Evans rats as a function of a stressful social defeat in inter-male fighting encounters were examined. This social subordination model mimics prototypical behavioral changes that parallel aspects of clinical depression, has been postulated to simulate early changes in the onset of depression in the losers, and has been successfully utilized for the evaluation of antidepressant activity. The 22-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) have been shown to reflect negative emotional states akin to anxiety and depression. Social defeat is the most robust and reliable method of eliciting these calls. The PAG has been shown to be a key brain region for the generation of 22-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations, and 22-kHz USVs have been shown to be controlled by the mesolimbic cholinergic system. In this present study, we examined gene expression changes in the PAG of social subordinate rats compared to dominant rats that do not Exhibit 22-kHz USVs. We found that social defeat significantly altered the genes associated with cholinergic synaptic transmission in the PAG. The most robust of these were the increased expression of the beta2 subunit of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (CHRNB2) and the T subunit of acetylcholinesterase (ACHE) in the subordinate animals. These changes were corroborated by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) and found to be exclusive to the PAG compared to seven other brain regions examined. These data suggest that cholinergic transmission in the PAG is involved in the generation of 22-kHz USVs and provide potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of affective disorders.
Project description:Androgens, namely 11-ketotestosterone (11KT), have a central role in male fish reproductive physiology and are thought to be involved in both aggression and social signalling. Aggressive encounters occur frequently in social species, and fights may cause energy depletion, injury and loss of social status. Signalling for social dominance and fighting ability in an agonistic context can minimize these costs. Here, we test the hypothesis of a 'chemical diplomacy' mechanism through urinary signals that avoids aggression and evokes an androgen response in receiver males of Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus). We show a decoupling between aggression and the androgen response; males fighting their mirror image experience an unresolved interaction and a severe drop in urinary 11KT. However, if concurrently exposed to dominant male urine, aggression drops but urinary 11KT levels remain high. Furthermore, 11KT increases in males exposed to dominant male urine in the absence of a visual stimulus. The use of a urinary signal to lower aggression may be an adaptive mechanism to resolve disputes and avoid the costs of fighting. As dominance is linked to nest building and mating with females, the 11KT response of subordinate males suggests chemical eavesdropping, possibly in preparation for parasitic fertilizations.
Project description:Fighting is dangerous, which is why animals choose to flee once the costs outweigh the benefits, but the mechanisms underlying this decision-making process are unknown. By manipulating aggressive signaling and applying nitrergic drugs, we show that the evolutionarily conserved neuromodulator nitric oxide (NO), which has a suppressing effect on aggression in mammals, can play a decisive role. We found that crickets, which exhibit spectacular fighting behavior, flee once the sum of their opponent's aversive actions accrued during fighting exceeds a critical amount. This effect of aversive experience is mediated by the NO signaling pathway. Rather than suppressing aggressive motivation, NO increases susceptibility to aversive stimuli and with it the likelihood to flee. NO's effect is manifested in losers by prolonged avoidance behavior, characteristic for social defeat in numerous species. Intriguingly, fighting experience also induces, via NO, a brief susceptible period to aversive stimuli in winners just after victory. Our findings thus reveal a key role for NO in the mechanism underlying the decision to flee and post-conflict depression in aggressive behavior.
Project description:Social hierarchies emerge when animals compete for access to resources such as food, mates or physical space. Wild and laboratory male mice have been shown to develop linear hierarchies, however, less is known regarding whether female mice have sufficient intrasexual competition to establish significant social dominance relationships. In this study, we examined whether groups of outbred CD-1 virgin female mice housed in a large vivaria formed social hierarchies. We show that females use fighting, chasing and mounting behaviors to rapidly establish highly directionally consistent social relationships. Notably, these female hierarchies are less linear, steep and despotic compared to male hierarchies. Female estrus state was not found to have a significant effect on aggressive behavior, though dominant females had elongated estrus cycles (due to increased time in estrus) compared to subordinate females. Plasma estradiol levels were equivalent between dominant and subordinate females. Subordinate females had significantly higher levels of basal corticosterone compared to dominant females. Analyses of gene expression in the ventromedial hypothalamus indicated that subordinate females have elevated ERα, ERβ and OTR mRNA compared to dominant females. This study provides a methodological framework for the study of the neuroendocrine basis of female social aggression and dominance in laboratory mice.
Project description:Pharmacological activation of GABA(B) receptors in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) can escalate territorial aggression in male mice.We characterized this escalated aggression in terms of its behavioral and environmental determinants.Aggressive behavior of resident male (CFW or ICR mouse) was assessed in confrontations with a group-housed intruder. Either baclofen (0.06 nmol/0.2 ?l) or vehicle (saline) was microinjected into the DRN 10 min before the confrontation. We examined baclofen-heightened aggression in five situations: aggression in a neutral arena and after social instigation (experiment 1), aggression during the light phase of the cycle (experiment 2), aggression without prior fighting experience (experiment 3), aggression toward a female (experiment 4), and aggression after defeat experiences (experiment 5). In addition, we examined the body targets towards which bites are directed and the duration of aggressive bursts after baclofen treatment.Regardless of the past social experience, baclofen escalated aggressive behaviors. Even in the neutral arena and after defeat experiences, where aggressive behaviors were inhibited, baclofen significantly increased aggression. Baclofen increased attack bites directed at vulnerable body areas of male intruders but not toward a female and only in the dark. Also, baclofen prolonged the duration of aggressive bursts.For baclofen to escalate aggression, specific stimulation (male intruder) and tonic level of serotonin (dark cycle) are required. Once aggressive behavior is triggered, intra-DRN baclofen escalates the level of aggression to abnormal levels and renders it difficult to terminate. Also, baclofen counteracts the effects of novelty or past experiences of defeat.