Food deprivation explains effects of mouthbrooding on ovaries and steroid hormones, but not brain neuropeptide and receptor mRNAs, in an African cichlid fish

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Feeding behavior and reproduction are coordinately regulated by the brain via neurotransmitters, circulating hormones, and neuropeptides. Reduced feeding allows animals to engage in other behaviors important for fitness, including mating and parental care. Some fishes cease feeding for weeks at a time in order to provide care to their young by brooding them inside the male or female parent's mouth. Maternal mouthbrooding is known to impact circulating hormones and subsequent reproductive cycles, but neither the full effects of food deprivation nor the neural mechanisms are known. Here we ask what effects mouthbrooding has on several physiological processes including gonad and body mass, brain neuropeptide and receptor gene expression, and circulating steroid hormones in a mouthbrooding cichlid species, Astatotilapia burtoni. We ask whether any observed changes can be explained by food deprivation, and show that during mouthbrooding, ovary size and circulating levels of androgens and estrogens match those seen during food deprivation. Levels of gonadotropin-releasing hormone 1 (GnRH1) mRNA in the brain were low in food-deprived females compared to controls and in mouthbrooding females compared to gravid females. Levels of mRNA encoding two peptides involved in regulating feeding, hypocretin and cholecystokinin, were increased in the brains of food-deprived females. Brain mRNA levels of two receptors, GnRH receptor 2 and NPY receptor Y8c, were elevated in mouthbrooding females compared to the fed condition, but NPY receptor Y8b mRNA was differently regulated by mouthbrooding. These results suggest that many, but not all, of the characteristic physiological changes that occur during mouthbrooding are consequences of food deprivation. © 2012 Elsevier Inc.

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Hormones and Behavior

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