Expression and localization of neuronal nitric oxide synthase in the brain and sensory tissues of the African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni
Nitric oxide (NO) produced by the enzyme neuronal nitric oxide synthase serves as an important neurotransmitter in the central nervous system that is involved in reproductive regulation, learning, sensory processing, and other forms of neural plasticity. Here, we map the distribution of nnos-expressing cells in the brain and retina of the cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni using in situ hybridization. In the brain, nnos-expressing cells are found from the olfactory bulbs to the hindbrain, including within specific nuclei involved in decision-making, sensory processing, neuroendocrine regulation, and the expression of social behaviors. In the retina, nnos-expressing cells are found in the inner nuclear layer, presumably in amacrine cells. We also used quantitative PCR to test for differences in nnos expression within the eye and olfactory bulbs of males and females of different reproductive states and social statuses. In the eye, males express more nnos than females, and socially dominant males express more nnos than subordinate males, but expression did not differ among female reproductive states. In the olfactory bulbs, dominant males had greater nnos expression than subordinate males. These results suggest a status-specific function for NO signaling in the visual and olfactory systems that may be important for sensory perception related to mating or territorial interactions to maintain the social hierarchy. The widespread distribution of nnos-expressing cells throughout the cichlid brain is similar to that in other teleosts, with some conserved localization patterns across vertebrates, suggesting diverse functions for this important neurotransmitter system.