Neural Activation Patterns Associated with Maternal Mouthbrooding and Energetic State in an African Cichlid Fish

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© 2020 IBRO Parental care is widespread in the animal kingdom, but for many species, provisioning energetic resources must be balanced with trade-offs between self-promoting and offspring-promoting behaviors. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying these motivational decisions. Mouthbrooding is an extreme form of parental care most common in fishes that provides an ideal opportunity to examine which brain regions are involved in parenting and energetics. The African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni is a maternal mouthbrooder in which females hold developing young inside their mouths for 2 weeks. This brood care makes feeding impossible, so females undergo obligatory starvation. We used immunohistochemistry for the neural activation marker pS6 to examine which brain regions were involved in processing salient information in mouthbrooding, starved, and fed females. We identified brain regions more associated with maternal brood care (TPp, Dc-4/-5), and others reflective of energetic state (Dl-v, NLTi). Most nuclei examined, however, were involved in both maternal care and energetic status. Placement of each of the 16 examined nuclei into these functional categories was supported by node by node comparisons, co-activity networks, hierarchical clustering, and discriminant function analysis. These results reveal which brain regions are involved in parental care and food intake in a species where provisioning is skewed towards the offspring when parental feeding is not possible. This study provides support for both distinct and shared circuitry involved in regulation of maternal care, food intake, and energy balance, and helps put the extreme parental case of mouthbrooding into a comparative and evolutionary context.

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