4 years ago

Female mimicry by sneaker males has a transcriptomic signature in both the brain and gonad in a sex changing fish.

Kim Rutherford, Neil J Gemmell, Jodi T Thomas, John R Godwin, Erica V Todd, Hui Liu, Melissa S Lamm, Kelly C Thompson
Phenotypic plasticity represents an elegant adaptive response of individuals to a change in their environment. Bluehead wrasses (Thalassoma bifasciatum) exhibit astonishing sexual plasticity, including female-to-male sex change and discrete male morphs that differ strikingly in behaviour, morphology and gonadal investment. Using RNA-seq transcriptome profiling, we examined the genes and physiological pathways underlying flexible behavioural and gonadal differences among female, dominant (bourgeois) male, and female-mimic (sneaker) male blueheads. For the first time in any organism, we find that female mimicry by sneaker males has a transcriptional signature in both the brain and gonad. Sneaker males shared striking similarity in neural gene expression with females, supporting the idea that males with alternative reproductive phenotypes have 'female-like brains'. Sneaker males also overexpressed neuroplasticity genes, suggesting that their opportunistic reproductive strategy requires a heightened capacity for neuroplasticity. Bourgeois males overexpressed genes associated with socio-sexual behaviours (e.g. isotocin), but also neuroprotective genes and biomarkers of oxidative stress and aging, indicating a hitherto unexplored cost to these males of attaining the reproductively privileged position at the top of the social hierarchy. Our novel comparison of testicular transcriptomes in a fish with male sexual polymorphism associates greater gonadal investment by sneaker males with overexpression of genes involved in cell proliferation and sperm quality control. We propose that morphological female-mimicry by sneaker male teleosts entails pervasive downregulation of androgenesis genes, consistent with low androgen production in males lacking well-developed secondary sexual characters.

Publisher URL: http://doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msx293

DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msx293

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