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Genotypic sex shapes maternal care in the African Pygmy mouse, Mus minutoides


Heitzmann, Louise et al. (2022), Genotypic sex shapes maternal care in the African Pygmy mouse, Mus minutoides, Dryad, Dataset,


Sexually dimorphic behaviours, such as parental care, have long been thought to be driven mostly, if not exclusively, by gonadal hormones. In the past two decades, a few studies have challenged this view, highlighting the direct influence of the sex chromosome complement (XX vs XY or ZZ vs ZW). The African pygmy mouse, Mus minutoides, is a wild mouse species with naturally occurring XY sex reversal induced by a third, feminizing X* chromosome, leading to three female genotypes: XX, XX* and X*Y. Here, we show that sex reversal in X*Y females shapes a divergent maternal care strategy from both XX and XX* females, rather than altering care quality. In addition, we show that sex reversal may also impact the dopaminergic system in the anteroventral periventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, consistent with one component of maternal care: pup retrieval. Combining behavioural ecology and neurobiology in a rodent subject to natural selection, we evaluate potential candidates for the neural basis of maternal behaviours and strengthen the underestimated role of the sex chromosomes in shaping sex differences in brain and behaviours. All things considered, we further highlight the emergence of a third sexual phenotype, challenging the binary view of phenotypic sexes.