Hormonal Prostaglandin FMediates Behavioral Responsiveness to a Species-Specific Multi-component Male Hormonal Sex Pheromone in a Female Fish

Peter W. Sorensen, Haude M. Levesque

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Although hormonally-derived female sex pheromones have been well described in approximately a dozen species of teleost fish, only a few male sex pheromones have been characterized and the neuroendocrine underpinnings of behavioral responsiveness to them is not understood. Herein, we describe a study that addresses this question using the goldfish, Carassius auratus, an important model species of how hormones drive behavior in egg-laying teleost fishes. Our study had four components. First, we examined behavioral responsiveness of female goldfish and found that when injected with prostaglandin F2α (PGF2α), a treatment that drives female sexual receptivity, and found that they became strongly and uniquely attracted to the odor of conspecific mature males, while non-PGF2α-treated goldfish did not discern males from females. Next, we characterized the complexity and specificity of the male pheromone by examining the responsiveness of PGF2α-treated females to the odor of either mature male conspecifics or male common carp odor, as well as their nonpolar and polar fractions. We found that the odor of male goldfish was more attractive than that of male common carp, and that its activity was attributable to both its nonpolar and polar fractions with the later conveying information on species-identity. Third, we hypothesized that androstenedione (AD), a 19-carbon sex steroid produced by all male fish might be the nonpolar fraction and tested whether PGF2α-treated goldfish were attracted to either AD alone or as part of a mixture in conspecific water. We found that while AD was inactive on its own, it became highly attractive when added to previously unattractive female conspecific water. Lastly, in a test of whether nonhormonal conspecific odor might determine species-specificity, we added AD to water of three species of fish and found that while AD made goldfish water strongly attractive, its effects on other species holding water were small. We conclude that circulating PGF2α produced at the time of ovulation induces behavioral sensitivity to a male sex pheromone in female goldfish and that this male pheromone is comprised of AD and a mixture of body metabolites. Because PGF2α commonly mediates ovulation and female sexual behavior in egg-laying fishes, and AD is universally produced by male fishes as a precursor to testosterone, we suggest that these two hormones may have similar roles mediating male-female behavior and communication in many species of fish.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-204
Number of pages12
JournalIntegrative and comparative biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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