Transcriptomes of testis and pituitary from male Nile tilapia (O. niloticus L.) in the context of social status

Michelle Thönnes, Rebecca Prause, Berta Levavi-Sivan, Frank Pfennig

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African cichlids are well established models for studying social hierarchies in teleosts and elucidating the effects social dominance has on gene expression. Ascension in the social hierarchy has been found to increase plasma levels of steroid hormones, follicle stimulating hormone (Fsh) and luteinizing hormone (Lh) as well as gonadosomatic index (GSI). Furthermore, the expression of genes related to gonadotropins and steroidogenesis and signaling along the brain-pituitary-gonad axis (BPG-axis) is affected by changes of an animal’s social status. In this study, we use RNA-sequencing to obtain an in-depth look at the transcriptomes of testes and pituitaries from dominant and subordinate male Nile tilapia living in long-term stable social hierarchies. This allows us to draw conclusions about factors along the brain-pituitary-gonad axis that are involved in maintaining dominance over weeks or even months. We identify a number of genes that are differentially regulated between dominant and subordinate males and show that in high-ranking fish this subset of genes is generally upregulated. Genes differentially expressed between the two social groups comprise growth factors, related binding proteins and receptors, components of Wnt-, Tgfβ- and retinoic acid-signaling pathway, gonadotropin signaling and steroidogenesis pathways. The latter is backed up by elevated levels of 11-ketotestosterone, testosterone and estradiol in dominant males. Luteinizing hormone (Lh) is found in higher concentration in the plasma of long-term dominant males than in subordinate animals. Our results both strengthen the existing models and propose new candidates for functional studies to expand our understanding of social phenomena in teleost fish.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere0268140
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5 May
StatePublished - May 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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