Sex-Specific Behavior Controlled By Peripheral Nervous System

In a series of novel experiments, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have found that properties of sensory neurons in invertebrate animal limbs, rather than an organism's central nervous system, seem to be critical in determining what types of information are received and what behaviors result.

Researchers base their conclusion on physiological and behavioral experiments that artificially reproduced sexually distinct behaviors in male marsh fiddler crabs by transplanting them with the limbs of female fiddler crabs. Ongoing experiments are investigating whether the same phenomena occurs when male limbs are transplanted onto females.

"Experimental work that can manipulate sensory systems in this way are extraordinarily rare, and this ability results in an unprecedented opportunity to explore how behaviors are produced and how sensory systems are assembled," said Dr. Marc Weissburg, an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Biology. He will present his research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, on Nov. 10 at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Los Angeles.

Though Weissburg's work addresses questions regarding the organization of sex-specific nervous systems and the generation of sex-specific behavior, it has implications beyond gender differences. If he can determine how invertebrates regenerate neural tissue that functions successfully, Weissburg believes other researchers may some day be able to apply those findings to stimulate regeneration in vertebrates, including humans, he said. Invertebrates and vertebrates have the same type of nervous system building blocks, and thus implications -- not firm conclusions -- can be drawn for humans, Weissburg explained.

"Because human neural tissue does not normally regrow, examining this basic process in cases where transplantation is viable may shed light on how to develop treatments for injuries involving spinal

Contact: Jane Sanders
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News

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