Poster Presentation The International Congress of Neuroendocrinology 2014

Molecular modules of maternal care: Neural gene expression in the mouth-brooding cichlid A. burtoni (#409)

Suzy CP Renn 1
  1. Reed College, Portland, OR, United States

Maternal care is an essential adaptive social behavior for many species, yet the underlying neural mechanisms have largely been addressed in mammalian systems. A new mother’s brain undergoes a fundamental transformation that shapes maternal behavior. We capitalize on the well-studied neural circuit plasticity for mammalian maternal behavior, “the maternal brain”, to study maternal mouth-brooding in the cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni. In this independently-evolved instance of robust care, the neural circuits regulating maternal behavior must interact intimately with the feeding circuits to allow voluntary starvation despite significant loss of body mass. Maternal mouth-brooding offers an extreme example of parent-offspring conflict in a tractable system for careful mechanistic studies. Using two different A. burtoni fish stocks, each showing a different level of maternal care, we have identified gene expression changes associated with the transition from mouth-brooding to overt maternal care.  By aligning our gene regulation results with homologous anatomical networks we can determine the extent to which the cichlid maternal brain corresponds to that of mammals implying deep homology across vertebrates.