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© 2020 Wiley Periodicals LLC Nonapeptides play a crucial role in mediating reproduction, aggression, and parental care across taxa. In fishes, arginine vasotocin (AVT) expression is related to social and/or reproductive status in most male fishes studied to date, and is linked to territorial defense, paternal care, and courtship. Despite a plethora of studies examining AVT in male fishes, relatively little is known about how AVT expression varies with female reproductive state or its role in female social behaviors. We used multiple methods for examining the AVT system in female African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni, including immunohistochemistry for AVT, in situ hybridization for avt-mRNA, and quantitative PCR. Ovulated and mouthbrooding females had similar numbers of parvocellular, magnocellular, and gigantocellular AVT cells in the preoptic area. However, ovulated females had larger magnocellular and gigantocellular cells compared to mouthbrooding females, and gigantocellular AVT cell size correlated with the number of days brooding, such that late-stage brooding females had larger AVT cells than mid-stage brooding females. In addition, we found that ventral hypothalamic cells were more prominent in females compared to males, and were larger in mouthbrooding compared to ovulated females, suggesting a role in maternal care. Together, these data indicate that AVT neurons change across the reproductive cycle in female fishes, similar to that seen in males. These data on females complement studies in male A. burtoni, providing a comprehensive picture of the regulation and potential function of different AVT cell types in reproduction and social behaviors in both sexes.

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Journal of Comparative Neurology