Neuromolecular and endocrine regulation of behaviour

When investigating behavioural decisions, it is key to understand the neuroendocrine machinery underlying these decisions. While selection acts on the expressed behaviour, it’s the machinery responsible for a particular behavioural decision that evolves.

We investigate how the early environment, in particular the composition and size of social groups, in which young grow up, changes the brain gene expression and hormone levels, and how changes in these mechanistic traits produce behavioural changes and alter the development of behavioural phenotypes. A core role in the social early-life effects plays the reprogramming of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Interrenal (HPI) axis of fish. Reprogramming becomes evident by social early-life effects on the expression of important HPI genes like the glucocorticoid receptor 1 (GR1), the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) and the corticotropin-releasing-factor (CRF), as well as change in the basal (but not stress-induced) levels of cortisol, an important stress-related hormone in fish. RNA-Sequencing experiments changing early group composition or opportunities to show helping behaviour further showed treatment effects on immune genes, genes implied neural differentiation and neuroplasticity, sensory systems and hormonal signalling, among others.

We apply a range of approaches to study the alterations of gene expression, from real-time qPCR, RNA-Seq and targeted bisufite sequencing for the study of methylation. We target different levels of resolution when analysing brains, from total brain to macroareas (in particular the telencephalon and the hypothalamus are of interest for social decisions) to microdissections of single nodes of a network of interconnected brain nuclei, the Social Decision Making Network (SDMN; see picture). Further, we developed a method to non-invasively measure the entire stress responses of small fish.

Principal investigator: Barbara Taborsky

Sample publications

Conceptual reviews:

Kasper, C, Vierbuchen, Maddalena, Ernst, U., Fischer, S., Radersma, R., Raulo, A., Cunha Saraiva, F., Wu, M., Mobley, K. Taborsky, B. (2017): Genetics and developmental biology of cooperation. Molecular Ecology, 26, 4364-4377.

Taborsky, M. & Taborsky, B. (2015): Evolution of genetic and physiological mechanisms of cooperative behaviour. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 6, 132-138.

Experimental studies:

Antunes, D.F., Teles, M.C., Zuellin, M., Frisen, C.N., Oliveira, R.F., Aubin-Horth, N. & Taborsky, B. (2021).Early social deprivation shapes neuronal programming of the social decision-making network in a cooperatively breeding fish. Mol Ecol. 30, 4118 – 4132

Stettler, P.R., Antunes, D.F. & Taborsky, B. (2021). The serotonin 1A receptor modulates the social behaviour within groups of a cooperatively-breeding cichlid. Horm. Behav., 129, 104918.

Antunes, D.F., Reyes-Contreras, M., Glauser, G. & Taborsky, B. (2021). Early social experience has life-long effects on baseline but not stress-induced cortisol levels in a cooperatively breeding fish. Horm. Behav., 128, 104910

Nyman, C., Herbert, F. O., Bessert-Nettelbeck, M., Aubin-Horth, N., Taborsky, B. (2020): Transcriptomic signatures of social experience during early development in a highly social cichlid fish. Mol. Ecol. 29, 610-623

Reyes-Contreras, M., Glauser, G., Rennison, D.J. B Taborsky, B. (2019): Early-life manipulation of cortisol and its receptor alters stress axis programming and social competence. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. B 374, 20180119

Kasper, C., François-Olivier Hébert, F.-O., Aubin-Horth, N. & Taborsky, B. (2018): Divergent brain gene expression profiles between alternative behavioural helper types in a cooperative breeder. Mol. Ecol., 27, 4136-4151

Kasper, C., Aubin-Horth, N. & Taborsky, B. (2018) Brain activation patterns following a cooperation opportunity in a highly social cichlid fish. Physiology & Behavior 195, 37-47

Nyman, C., Fischer, S., Aubin-Horth, N. & Taborsky, B. (2018): Evolutionary conserved neural signature of early life stress affects animal social competence. Proc. Roy Soc. B 285, 20172344.

Nyman, C., Fischer, S., Aubin-Horth, N. & Taborsky, B. (2017): Effect of the early social environment on behavioural and genomic responses to a social challenge in a cooperatively breeding vertebrate. Molecular Ecology, 26, 3186–3203

Taborsky B., Tschirren, L., Meunier, C. & Aubin-Horth, N. (2013): Stable reprogramming of brain transcription profiles by the early social environment in a cooperatively breeding fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280,20122605.

Nuclei of the SDMN are delineated on pictures made from brain slices in the forebrain of N. pulcher adults. These nuclei were microdissected and RNA was extracted from these tissue samples (Antunes et al. 2021, Mol Ecol)