Expression patterns of Neuroligin-3 and tyrosine hydroxylase across the brain in mate choice contexts in female swordtails

Ryan Y. Wong, Molly E. Cummings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Choosing mates is a commonly shared behavior across many organisms, with important fitness consequences. Variations in female preferences can be due in part to differences in neural and cellular activity during mate selection. Initial studies have begun to identify putative brain regions involved in mate preference, yet the understanding of the neural processes regulating these behaviors is still nascent. In this study, we characterized the expression of a gene involved in synaptogenesis and plasticity (neuroligin-3) and one that codes for the rate-limiting enzyme in dopamine biosynthesis (tyrosine hydroxylase; TH1) in the female Xiphophorus nigrensis (northern swordtail) brain as related to mate preference behavior. We exposed females to a range of different mate choice contexts including two large courting males (LL), two small coercive males (SS), and a context that paired a large courting male with a small coercive male (LS). Neuroligin-3 expression in a mate preference context (LS) showed significant correlations with female preference in two telencephalic areas (Dm and Dl), a hypothalamic nucleus (HV), and two regions associated with sexual and social behavior (POA and Vv). We did not observe any context-or behavior-specific changes in tyrosine hydroxylase mRNA expression concomitant with female preference in any of the brain regions examined. Analysis of TH and neuroligin-3 expression across different brain regions showed that expression patterns varied with the male social environment only for neuroligin-3, where the density of correlated expression between brain regions was positively associated with mate choice contexts that involved a greater number of courting male phenotypes (LS and LL). This study identified regions showing presumed high levels of synaptic plasticity using neuroligin-3, implicating and supporting their roles in female mate preference, but we did not detect any relationship between tyrosine hydroxylase and mate preference with 30 min of stimulus presentation in X. nigrensis. These data suggest that information about potential mates is processed in select forebrain regions and the entire brain shows different degrees of correlated expression depending on the mate preference context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-243
Number of pages13
JournalBrain, Behavior and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Amygdala
  • Brain
  • Hippocampus
  • Mate choice
  • Neuroligin
  • Swordtail
  • Synaptic plasticity
  • Tyrosine hydroxylase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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