Across the animal kingdom, hormones coordinate the physiology of diverse tissues. In the brain, these signals exert powerful influences on social behavior. Therefore, hormonal control of fascinating behavioral displays exhibited in numerous species offers a tantalizing entry point to understand brain function. However, for the majority of species, it has been difficult to gain a mechanistic understanding of the cellular processes at work due to technical constraints. Recently, CRISPR/Cas9 has emerged as a potent tool for manipulating the genome of any species desired, in principle.
The cichlid fish family displays a wide range of social behaviors that are regulated by hormonal signals. I describe the use of CRISPR gene editing in the cichlid Astatotilapia burtoni to manipulate prostaglandin F (PGF) signaling. Combining molecular genetics with behavioral analysis and other tools, we dissect the molecular genetic control of social behavior in A. burtoni to show that PGF signaling is necessary and sufficient for female sexual behavior. Our work shows that the cells sensitive to PGF are central nodes in the female behavior circuit that is responsive to a variety of hormones. We extend this work through candidate gene approaches, whole-transcriptome brain sequencing, transgenesis and CRISPR to identify and test genetic components of neural circuits that regulate a variety of social behaviors.
Dr. Scott Juntti is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at UMD.