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Changes in plasma testosterone levels and brain AVT cell number during the breeding season in the green treefrog.

Published Article
Brain, behavior and evolution
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1159/000316084
PMID: 20664184


We exposed groups of adult male green treefrogs, Hyla cinerea, to acoustic stimuli (natural chorus or random tones) for seven consecutive nights at three time points during their natural breeding season (May, July, and September) and assessed seasonal changes in plasma androgen levels and number of arginine vasotocin (AVT) immunoreactive cells in the brain over this time period. We also tested whether social cues altered either androgens or AVT-ir cell number or size at each time point. Finally, we analyzed how these factors related to calling behavior. Data were collected over two breeding seasons. Call rate (calls/h) was assessed during the stimulus time (i.e. 'evoked calling') and during the remainder of the day ('spontaneous calling'). Plasma hormone levels were measured at the end of the acoustic treatment when brains were collected for immunocytochemistry. Circulating androgen levels declined over the breeding season. Males exposed to chorus sounds, however, had higher androgen levels than males exposed to tones. AVT-ir cell number increased across the breeding season in the nucleus accumbens but not the amygdala, anterior preoptic area, or magnocellular preoptic area, and soma size decreased in the nucleus accumbens as cell number increased. Social stimulation had no significant influence on either AVT-ir cell measure. Evoked call rate was higher in males exposed to natural chorus sounds compared to those exposed to random tones, but did not change during the season. In contrast, spontaneous call rate was higher at the beginning of the breeding season compared to the end, and unlike evoked calling was correlated with circulating androgen levels across all treatments and time points. AVT-ir soma size was positively correlated with both evoked and spontaneous calling. These results suggest that social exposure can prolong the elevation of gonadal hormones in the bloodstream, thus mitigating or slowing the seasonal decline of such hormones. In contrast, social exposure does not affect the seasonal pattern of AVT-ir cell number or soma size. The reciprocal relationship between social cues and hormones and the subsequent effect on behavior may provide hidden benefits to animals engaging in social interactions. However, unlike steroid hormone levels, the seasonal change in AVT-ir cell number and size is not counteracted by social stimulation.

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