Dynamics and mechanics of social rank reversal

Cliff H. Summers, Gina L. Forster, Wayne J. Korzan, Michael J. Watt, Earl T. Larson, Øyvind Øverli, Erik Höglund, Patrick J. Ronan, Tangi R. Summers, Kenneth J. Renner, Neil Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Stable social relationships are rearranged over time as resources such as favored territorial positions change. We test the hypotheses that social rank relationships are relatively stable, and although social signals influence aggression and rank, they are not as important as memory of an opponent. In addition, we hypothesize that eyespots, aggression and corticosterone influence serotonin and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) systems in limbic structures involved in learning and memory. In stable adult dominant-subordinate relationships in the lizard Anolis carolinensis, social rank can be reversed by pharmacological elevation of limbic serotonergic activity. Any pair of specific experiences: behaving aggressively, viewing aggression or perceiving sign stimuli indicative of dominant rank also elevate serotonergic activity. Differences in the extent of serotonergic activation may be a discriminating and consolidating factor in attaining superior rank. For instance, socially aggressive encounters lead to increases in plasma corticosterone that stimulate both serotonergic activity and expression of the NMDA receptor subunit 2B (NR2B) within the CA 3 region of the lizard hippocampus. Integration of these systems will regulate opponent recognition and memory, motivation to attack or retreat, and behavioral and physiological reactions to stressful social interactions. Contextually appropriate social responses provide a modifiable basis for coping with the flexibility of social relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-252
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Anolis carolinensis
  • Hippocampus
  • NMDA
  • Serotonin
  • Social dominance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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