TitleBrain nuclei in actively courting red-sided garter snakes: A paradigm of neural trimorphism
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsKrohmer, RW, DeMarchi, GA, Baleckaitis, DD, Lutterschmidt, DI, Mason, RT
JournalPhysiology & Behavior
Type of ArticleJournal Article

During the breeding season, two distinct male phenotypes are exhibited by red-sided garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis), with courtship behavior being directed not only toward females, but also toward a sub-population of males called she-males. She-males are morphologically identical to other males except for a circulating androgen level three times that of normal males and their ability to produce a female-like pheromone. As in other vertebrates, limbic nuclei in the red-sided garter snake brain are involved in the control of sexual behaviors. For example, an intact anterior hypothalamus pre-optic area (AHPOA) is essential for the initiation and maintenance of reproduction. To determine if brain morphology varies among the three behavioral phenotypes (i.e., males, she-males, and females) during the breeding season, we examined the volume, cell size and cell density of the AHPOA as well as a control region, the external nucleus of the optic tract (ENOT). We used Luxol Fast Blue and Ziehl's Fuchsin to visualize neurons and glial cells, respectively. No significant differences were observed among the three behavioral phenotypes in the volume, cell size or density in the control region. In contrast, the volume, cell size and density of the AHPOA of she-males were significantly greater than those of both male and female snakes. While the volume of the AHPOA was significantly greater in females compared to males, no differences were observed in cell size or density. These differences in brain morphology suggest a possible underlying mechanism for phenotypic-specific behavioral patterns. (C) 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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