Sex and species differences in neuromodulatory input to a premotor nucleus: a comparative study of substance P and communication behavior in weakly electric fish

J Neurobiol. 2005 Feb 15;62(3):299-315. doi: 10.1002/neu.20095.


Many electric fish species modulate their electric organ discharges (EODs) to produce transient social signals that vary in number and structure. In Apteronotus leptorhynchus, males modulate their EOD more often than females, whereas in Apteronotus albifrons, males and females produce similar numbers of modulations. Sex differences in the number of EOD modulations in A. leptorhynchus are associated with sex differences in substance P in the diencephalic nucleus that controls transient EOD modulations, the CP/PPn. These sex differences in substance P have been hypothesized to regulate sex differences in the production of EOD modulations. To comparatively test this hypothesis, we examined substance P immunoreactivity in the CP/PPn of male and female A. leptorhynchus and A. albifrons. Because the number of EOD modulations is sexually monomorphic in A. albifrons, we predicted no sex difference in substance P in the CP/PPn of this species. Contrary to this prediction, male A. albifrons had significantly more substance P in the CP/PPn than females. This suggests that sex differences in substance P are not sufficient for controlling sex differences in the number of EOD modulations. Modulation structure (frequency excursion and/or duration), however, is also sexually dimorphic in A. leptorhynchus and is another possible behavioral correlate of the sexually dimorphic distribution of substance P. The present study found pronounced sex differences in the structure of EOD modulations in A. albifrons similar to those in A. leptorhynchus. Thus, sex differences in substance P may influence sex differences in the structure, rather than the number, of EOD modulations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Biological Clocks / physiology
  • Diencephalon / anatomy & histology
  • Diencephalon / physiology*
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Electric Fish / physiology*
  • Electric Organ / innervation*
  • Electric Organ / physiology
  • Female
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Species Specificity
  • Substance P / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Substance P