Glutamate AMPA/Kainate Receptors, not GABAA Receptors, Mediate Estradiol-Induced Sex Differences in the Hypothalamus

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Abstract

Sex differences in brain morphology underlie physiological and behavioral differences between males and females. During the critical perinatal period for sexual differentiation in the rat, gonadal steroids act in a regionally specific manner to alter neuronal morphology. Using Golgi-Cox impregnation, we examined several parameters of neuronal morphology in postnatal day 2 (PN2) rats. We found that in the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMN) and in areas just dorsal and just lateral to the VMN that there was a sex difference in total dendritic spine number (males greater) that was abolished by treating female neonates with exogenous testosterone. Dendritic branching was similarly sexually differentiated and hormonally modulated in the VMN and dorsal to the VMN. We then used spinophilin, a protein that positively correlates with the amount of dendritic spines, to investigate the mechanisms underlying these sex differences. Estradiol, which mediates most aspects of masculinization and is the aromatized product of testosterone, increased spinophilin levels in female PN2 rats to that of males. Muscimol, an agonist at GABAA receptors, did not affect spinophilin protein levels in either male or female neonates. Kainic acid, an agonist at glutamatergic AMPA/kainate receptors, mimicked the effect of estradiol in females. Antagonizing AMPA/kainate receptors with NBQX prevented the estradiol-induced increase in spinophilin in females but did not affect spinophilin level in males.

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