Neuromodulation of the agonistic behavior in two species of weakly electric fish that display different types of aggression

J Exp Biol. 2013 Jul 1;216(Pt 13):2412-20. doi: 10.1242/jeb.082180.


Agonistic behavior has shaped sociality across evolution. Though extremely diverse in types of displays and timing, agonistic encounters always follow the same conserved phases (evaluation, contest and post-resolution) and depend on homologous neural circuits modulated by the same neuroendocrine mediators across vertebrates. Among neuromodulators, serotonin (5-HT) is the main inhibitor of aggression, and arginine vasotocin (AVT) underlies sexual, individual and social context differences in behavior across vertebrate taxa. We aim to demonstrate that a distinct spatio-temporal pattern of activation of the social behavior network characterizes each type of aggression by exploring its modulation by both the 5-HT and AVT systems. We analyze the neuromodulation of aggression between the intermale reproduction-related aggression displayed by the gregarious Brachyhypopomus gauderio and the non-breeding intrasexual and intersexual territorial aggression displayed by the solitary Gymnotus omarorum. Differences in the telencephalic activity of 5-HT between species were paralleled by a differential serotonergic modulation through 1A receptors that inhibited aggression in the territorial aggression of G. omarorum but not in the reproduction-related aggression of B. gauderio. AVT injection increased the motivation towards aggression in the territorial aggression of G. omarorum but not in the reproduction-related aggression of B. gauderio, whereas the electric submission and dominance observed in G. omarorum and B. gauderio, respectively, were both AVT-dependent in a distinctive way. The advantages of our model species allowed us to identify precise target areas and mechanisms of the neuromodulation of two types of aggression that may represent more general and conserved strategies of the control of social behavior among vertebrates.

Keywords: AVT; Brachyhypopomus gauderio; Gymnotus omarorum; reproduction-related aggression; serotonin; social behavior network; territorial aggression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Electric Fish / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Territoriality
  • Vasotocin / metabolism*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Serotonin
  • Vasotocin