Steroid hormone mediation of limbic brain plasticity and aggression in free-living tree lizards, Urosaurus ornatus

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Hormones and Behavior




The neural mechanisms by which steroid hormones regulate aggression are unclear. Although testosterone and its metabolites are involved in both the regulation of aggression and the maintenance of neural morphology, it is unknown whether these changes are functionally related. We addressed the hypothesis that parallel changes in steroid levels and brain volumes are involved in the regulation of adult aggression. We examined the relationships between seasonal hormone changes, aggressive behavior, and the volumes of limbic brain regions in free-living male and female tree lizards (Urosaurus ornatus). The brain nuclei that we examined included the lateral septum (LS), preoptic area (POA), amygdala (AMY), and ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH). We showed that the volumes of the POA and AMY in males and the POA in females vary with season. However, reproductive state (and thus hormonal state) was incompletely predictive of these seasonal changes in males and completely unrelated to changes in females. We also detected male-biased dimorphisms in volume of the POA, AMY, and a dorsolateral subnucleus of the VMH but did not detect a dimorphism between alternate male morphological phenotypes. Finally, we showed that circulating testosterone levels were higher in males exhibiting higher frequency and intensity of aggressive display to a conspecific, though brain nucleus volumes were unrelated to behavior. Our findings fail to support our hypothesis and suggest instead that plasma testosterone level covaries with aggression level and in a limited capacity with brain nucleus volumes but that these are largely unrelated relationships. [copyright] 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.