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Neurogenomic landscape associated with status-dependent cooperative behaviour.

Molecular Ecology 2024 March 22
The neurogenomic mechanisms mediating male-male reproductive cooperative behaviours remain unknown. We leveraged extensive transcriptomic and behavioural data on a neotropical bird species (Pipra filicauda) that performs cooperative courtship displays to understand these mechanisms. In this species, the cooperative display is modulated by testosterone, which promotes cooperation in non-territorial birds, but suppresses cooperation in territory holders. We sought to understand the neurogenomic underpinnings of three related traits: social status, cooperative display behaviour and testosterone phenotype. To do this, we profiled gene expression in 10 brain nuclei spanning the social decision-making network (SDMN), and two key endocrine tissues that regulate social behaviour. We associated gene expression with each bird's behavioural and endocrine profile derived from 3 years of repeated measures taken from free-living birds in the Ecuadorian Amazon. We found distinct landscapes of constitutive gene expression were associated with social status, testosterone phenotype and cooperation, reflecting the modular organization and engagement of neuroendocrine tissues. Sex-steroid and neuropeptide signalling appeared to be important in mediating status-specific relationships between testosterone and cooperation, suggesting shared regulatory mechanisms with male aggressive and sexual behaviours. We also identified differentially regulated genes involved in cellular activity and synaptic potentiation, suggesting multiple mechanisms underpin these genomic states. Finally, we identified SDMN-wide gene expression differences between territorial and floater males that could form the basis of 'status-specific' neurophysiological phenotypes, potentially mediated by testosterone and growth hormone. Overall, our findings provide new, systems-level insights into the mechanisms of cooperative behaviour and suggest that differences in neurogenomic state are the basis for individual differences in social behaviour.

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