Neural correlates of winning and losing fights in poison frog tadpoles

Eva K. Fischer, Harmony Alvarez, Katherine M. Lagerstrom, Jordan E. McKinney, Randi Petrillo, Gwen Ellis, Lauren A. O'Connell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aggressive competition for resources among juveniles is documented in many species, but the neural mechanisms regulating this behavior in young animals are poorly understood. In poison frogs, increased parental care is associated with decreased water volume of tadpole pools, resource limitation, and aggression. Indeed, the tadpoles of many poison frog species will attack, kill, and cannibalize other tadpoles. We examined the neural basis of conspecific aggression in Dyeing poison frog (Dendrobates tinctorius) tadpoles by comparing individuals that won aggressive encounters, lost aggressive encounters, or did not engage in a fight. We first compared patterns of generalized neural activity using immunohistochemical detection of phosphorylated ribosomes (pS6) as a proxy for neural activation associated with behavior. We found increased neural activity in the medial pallium and preoptic area of loser tadpoles, suggesting the amphibian homologs of the mammalian hippocampus and preoptic area may facilitate loser-associated behaviors. Nonapeptides (arginine vasotocin and mesotocin) and dopamine have been linked to aggression in other vertebrates and are located in the preoptic area. We next examined neural activity specifically in nonapeptide- and tyrosine-hydroxylase-positive cells using double-label immunohistochemistry. We found increased neural activity specifically in the preoptic area nonapeptide neurons of winners, whereas we found no differences in activity of dopaminergic cells among behavioral groups. Our findings suggest the neural correlates of aggression in poison frog tadpoles are similar to neural mechanisms mediating aggression in adults and juveniles of other vertebrate taxa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112973
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Dopamine
  • Juvenile aggression
  • Mesotocin
  • Preoptic area
  • Vasotocin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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