The stalk-eyed fly as a model for aggression – is there a conserved role for 5-HT between vertebrates and invertebrates? [COMMENTARY]

Andrew N. Bubak, Michael J. Watt, Jazmine D. W. Yaeger, Kenneth J. Renner, and John G. Swallow

Serotonin (5-HT) has largely been accepted to be inhibitory to vertebrate aggression, whereas an opposing stimulatory role has been proposed for invertebrates. Herein, we argue that critical gaps in our understanding of the nuanced role of 5-HT in invertebrate systems drove this conclusion prematurely, and that emerging data suggest a previously unrecognized level of phylogenetic conservation with respect to neurochemical mechanisms regulating the expression of aggressive behaviors. This is especially apparent when considering the interplay among factors governing 5-HT activity, many of which share functional homology across taxa. We discuss recent findings using insect models, with an emphasis on the stalk-eyed fly, to demonstrate how particular 5-HT receptor subtypes mediate the intensity of aggression with respect to discrete stages of the interaction (initiation, escalation and termination), which mirrors the complex behavioral regulation currently recognized in vertebrates. Further similarities emerge when considering the contribution of neuropeptides, which interact with 5-HT to ultimately determine contest progression and outcome. Relative to knowledge in vertebrates, much less is known about the function of 5-HT receptors and neuropeptides in invertebrate aggression, particularly with respect to sex, species and context, prompting the need for further studies. Our Commentary highlights the need to consider multiple factors when determining potential taxonomic differences, and raises the possibility of more similarities than differences between vertebrates and invertebrates with regard to the modulatory effect of 5-HT on aggression.

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