Brain transcriptomic responses of Yarrow's spiny lizard, Sceloporus jarrovii, to conspecific visual or chemical signals

Cristina Romero-Diaz, Cindy Xu, Stephanie M. Campos, Morgan A. Herrmann, Kenro Kusumi, Diana K. Hews, Emília P. Martins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Species with multimodal communication integrate information from social cues in different modalities into behavioral responses that are mediated by changes in gene expression in the brain. Differences in patterns of gene expression between signal modalities may shed light on the neuromolecular mechanisms underlying multisensory processing. Here, we use RNA-Seq to analyze brain transcriptome responses to either chemical or visual social signals in a territorial lizard with multimodal communication. Using an intruder challenge paradigm, we exposed 18 wild-caught, adult, male Sceloporus jarrovii to either male conspecific scents (femoral gland secretions placed on a small pebble), the species-specific push-up display (a programmed robotic model), or a control (an unscented pebble). We conducted differential expression analysis with both a de novo S. jarrovii transcriptome assembly and the reference genome of a closely related species, Sceloporus undulatus. Despite some inter-individual variation, we found significant differences in gene expression in the brain across signal modalities and the control in both analyses. The most notable differences occurred between chemical and visual stimulus treatments, closely followed by visual stimulus versus the control. Altered expression profiles could explain documented aggression differences in the immediate behavioral response to conspecific signals from different sensory modalities. Shared differentially expressed genes between visually- or chemically-stimulated males are involved in neural activity and neurodevelopment and several other differentially expressed genes in stimulus-challenged males are involved in conserved signal-transduction pathways associated with the social stress response, aggression and the response to territory intruders across vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12753
JournalGenes, Brain and Behavior
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • RNA-seq
  • Sceloporus
  • aggression
  • brain
  • gene expression
  • lizard
  • multimodal communication
  • signal processing
  • social behavior network
  • transcriptome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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