Single-cell gene profiling reveals social status-dependent modulation of nuclear hormone receptors in gnrh neurons in a male cichlid fish

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Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is essential for the initiation and maintenance of reproductive functions in vertebrates. To date, three distinct paralogue lineages, GnRH1, GnRH2, and GnRH3, have been identified with different functions and regulatory mechanisms. Among them, hypothalamic GnRH1 neurons are classically known as the hypophysiotropic form that is regulated by estrogen feedback. However, the mechanism of action underlying the estrogen-dependent regulation of GnRH1 has been debated, mainly due to the coexpression of low levels of estrogen receptor (ER) genes. In addition, the role of sex steroids in the modulation of GnRH2 and GnRH3 neurons has not been fully elucidated. Using single-cell real-time PCR, we revealed the expression of genes for estrogen, androgen, glucocorticoid, thyroid, and xenobiotic receptors in GnRH1, GnRH2, and GnRH3 neurons in the male Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus. We further quantified expression levels of estrogen receptor genes (ERα, ERβ, and ERγ) in three GnRH neuron types in male tilapia of two different social statuses (dominant and subordinate) at the single cell level. In dominant males, GnRH1 mRNA levels were positively proportional to ERγ mRNA levels, while in subordinate males, GnRH2 mRNA levels were positively proportional to ERβ mRNA levels. These results indicate that variations in the expression of nuclear receptors (and possibly steroid sensitivities) among individual GnRH cells may facilitate different physiological processes, such as the promotion of reproductive activities through GnRH1 neurons, and the inhibition of feeding and sexual behaviors through GnRH2 neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2724
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2020


  • Aggression
  • Social stress
  • Steroids
  • Teleosts
  • Xenobiotic

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