Maternal treatment with picrotoxin in late pregnancy improved female sexual behavior but did not alter male sexual behavior of offspring

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Previous studies from our laboratory investigated the effects of picrotoxin (PT), a γ-aminobutyric acid receptor antagonist administered during several perinatal periods, on the sexual behavior of male and female rats. We observed that the time of perinatal exposure to PT is critical to determine either facilitation or impairment of sexual behavior. The present study evaluated the effects of prenatal administration of a single dose of PT on gestation day 18 of dams (the first critical period of male brain sexual differentiation) on sexual behavior of male and female offspring. Thus, female Wistar rats were mated with males and, on gestation day 18, received 0.6 mg/kg of PT or 0.9% saline solution subcutaneously. On postnatal day 1, the offspring were weighed and several measures of sexual development were assessed. The sexual behaviors and the general activity in the open field of adult male and ovariectomized, hormone-treated female rats were observed. On comparison with the control group, maternal PT treatment: (i) did not alter the maternal weight, pup weight, anogenital distance, or male and female general activity; (ii) increased female sexual behavior, that is, decreased the latencies to first mount, first lordosis, and tenth lordosis, and the percentage of females presenting lordosis; and (iii) did not alter male sexual behavior. It is suggested that prenatal PT exposure interfered with epigenetic mechanisms related to the development of sex differences in the brain, leading to the observed sexually dimorphic effects on sexual behavior.

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