Heterosexual housing increases the retention of courtship behavior following castration and elevates metabolic capacity in limbic brain nuclei in male whiptail lizards, Cnemidophorus inornatus
In male vertebrates the display of courtship behavior depends on the presence of testicular androgens. However, social experiences in adulthood can alter the hormonal dependence of courtship behavior in a variety of species, and we have previously proposed that these behavioral changes are linked to changes in neural metabolic capacity (cytochrome oxidase activity). Here we investigated the effects of prior social experience (housing with females vs housing in isolation) on the retention of courtship behavior following gonadectomy and on cytochrome oxidase (CO) activity in male little striped whiptail lizards, Cnemidophorus inornatus. In Experiment 1, we found that males that were previously housed with females (HWF males) continued to display courtship behavior longer after castration than males previously housed in isolation (ISOLATE males). This is similar to the behavioral plasticity found in rodents and cats. On the other hand, courtship behavior while gonadally intact was indistinguishable between HWF and ISOLATE males. Because all males were housed individually following castration, the difference is due to different social experiences prior to castration. In Experiment 2, we found that gonadally intact HWF males had significantly elevated CO activity in the preoptic area, amygdala, and anterior and ventromedial hypothalamic areas relative to intact ISOLATE males. No significant differences in metabolism were found in the lateral septum, lateral hypothalamus, and habenula or in hindlimb muscle, suggesting that the increase in metabolism is specific to brain nuclei involved in courtship behavior. Altogether, this demonstrates that elevations in metabolic capacity correlate with experience-dependent increases in robustness to castration.