Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Matthew Grober - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Charles Derby - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Dr. Kerry Ressler - Committee Member

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Laura Carruth - Committee Member


Social status influences reproductive physiology in many species, and sex change in marine teleost fishes provides an excellent model to understand how an organism can modulate its reproductive system in response to social stimuli. The series of experiments presented in this dissertation has focused on the proximate mechanisms underlying sex change and, in particular, the neuroendocrine factors that might translate social information into physiological changes. The bluebanded goby (Lythrypnus dalli) is a sexually plastic fish, and the dominant female typically changes sex when the male is removed from the social group. The direct physical interactions between the male and the females were found to be the main sensory cues that inhibit sex change. Sex steroids can both modulate and be modulated by behavior, and as a result they have been the most obvious candidates for a key role in the regulation of sex change. Males and females showed similar diurnal patterns for steroid hormones, but females had significantly higher water-borne estrogen levels. Concentrations of estradiol, testosterone and 11-ketotestosterone presented sex and tissue differences in brain, gonad and muscle, and they varied in complex ways in different tissues during sex change. The neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT) has been suggested to be involved in the inhibition of socially regulated sex change because of its role in the modulation of both reproductive and aggressive behavior. None of the pharmacological manipulations performed in L. dalli to alter serotonergic activity was able to overcome the input from the social environment and affect sex change. Neither monoamine levels nor the area or number of 5-HT immunoreactive neurons were different between males, females and sex changers or between dominant and subordinate females. The results do not support the hypothesis of a serotonergic inhibition on sex change in L. dalli, but show that rapid changes in brain androgen levels might be implicated in inducing behavioral or morphological changes associated with sex reversal. Also, steroids respond to changes in the social environment in different ways in different tissues so local steroid synthesis should receive greater attention, and caution is required when using circulating levels to understand behavioral regulation.

lorenzi_varenka_200912_PhD_part2.pdf (29207 kB)

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