Variation in reproductive capacity is common across the lives of all animals. In vertebrates, hypothalamic neurons that secrete GnRH are a primary mediator of such reproductive plasticity. Since social interactions suppress gonadal maturity in the African cichlid fish, Astatotilapia (Haplochromis) burtoni, we investigated whether the electrical properties of GnRH neurons were also socially regulated. Adult A. burtoni males are either territorial (T) and reproductively active or nonterritorial (NT) and reproductively regressed, depending upon their social environment. We compared the basic electrical properties of hypothalamic GnRH neurons from T and NT males using whole-cell electrophysiology in vitro. GnRH neurons were spontaneously active and exhibited several different activity patterns. A small fraction of neurons exhibited episodic activity patterns, which have been described in GnRH neurons from mammals. The type of activity pattern and spontaneous firing rate did not vary with reproductive capacity; however, several basic electrical properties were different. Neurons from T males were larger than those from NT males and had higher membrane capacitance and lower input resistance. In neurons from NT males, action potential duration was significantly longer and after-hyperpolarization characteristics were diminished, which led to a tendency for neurons from NT males to fire less rapidly in response to current injection. We predict this could serve to decrease GnRH release in NT males. These data are the first electrophysiological characterization of hypothalamic GnRH neurons in a nonmammalian species and provide evidence for several changes in electrical properties with reproductive state.
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