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Socially regulated sex change in teleost fishes is a striking example of social status information regulating biological function in the service of reproductive success. The establishment of social dominance in sex changing species is translated into a cascade of changes in behavior, physiology, neuroendocrine function, and morphology that transforms a female into a male, or vice versa. The hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal axis (HPI, homologous to HP-adrenal axis in mammals and birds) has been hypothesized to play a mechanistic role linking status to sex change. The HPA/I axis responds to environmental stressors by integrating relevant external and internal cues and coordinating biological responses including changes in behavior, energetics, physiology, and morphology (i.e., metamorphosis). Through actions of both corticotropin-releasing factor and glucocorticoids, the HPA/I axis has been implicated in processes central to sex change, including the regulation of agonistic behavior, social status, energetic investment, and life history transitions. In this paper, we review the hypothesized roles of the HPA/I axis in the regulation of sex change and how those hypotheses have been tested to date. We include original data on sex change in the bluebanded goby (Lythyrpnus dalli ), a highly social fish capable of bidirectional sex change. We then propose a model for HPA/I involvement in sex change and discuss how these ideas might be tested in the future. Understanding the regulation of sex change has the potential to elucidate evolutionarily conserved mechanisms responsible for translating pertinent information about the environment into coordinated biological changes along multiple body axes.


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Front Neurosci, 7 210. DOI:

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.