Steroid hormones alter neuroanatomy and aggression independently in the tree lizard

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Physiology and Behavior




Steroidhormones effect changes in both neuroanatomy and aggressive behavior in animals of various taxa. However, whether changes in neuroanatomy directly underlie changes in aggression is unknown. We investigate this relationship among steroidhormones, neuroanatomy, and aggression in a free-living vertebrate with a relatively simple nervous system, the treelizard (Urosaurus ornatus). Weiss and Moore manipulated testosterone and progesterone levels in adult male treelizards and found that both hormones facilitated aggressive behavior toward a conspecific. In this study, we examined the brains of a subset of these animals to determine whether changes in limbic morphology were associated with hormone-induced changes in aggressive behavior. Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that testosterone and/or progesterone cause changes in neural morphology that are necessary for the expression of testosterone's effects on aggressive behavior. We found that both hormones increased aggression; however, only testosterone induced changes in neuroanatomy. Testosterone increased the size of both the amygdala and nucleus sphericus. However, we could detect no individual correlations between neuroanatomy and aggression levels suggesting that the observed large-scale changes in neuroanatomy are not precisely reflective of changes in mechanisms underlying aggression.