Testosterone is known to play an important role in the regulation of male-type sexual and aggressive behavior. As an aromatised metabolite of testosterone, estradiol-induced activation of estrogen receptor α (ERα) may be crucial for the induction of these behaviors in male mice. However, the importance of ERα expressed in different nuclei for this facilitatory action of testosterone has not been determined. To investigate this issue, we generated an adeno-associated virus vector expressing a small hairpin RNA targeting ERα to site-specifically knockdown ERα expression. We stereotaxically injected either a control or ERα targeting vector into the medial amygdala, medial pre-optic area (MPOA), or ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMN) in gonadally intact male mice. Two weeks after injection, all mice were tested biweekly for sexual and aggressive behavior, alternating between behavior tests each week. We found that suppressing ERα in the MPOA reduced sexual but not aggressive behavior, whereas in the VMN it reduced both behaviors. Knockdown of ERα in the medial amygdala did not alter either behavior. Additionally, it was found that ERα knockdown in the MPOA caused a parallel reduction in the number of neuronal nitric oxide synthase-expressing cells. Taken together, these results indicate that the testosterone facilitatory action on male sexual behavior requires the expression of ERα in both the MPOA and VMN, whereas the testosterone facilitatory action on aggression requires the expression of ERα in only the VMN.
We found that knocking down of ERα using AAV-shERα in the MPOA reduced sexual but not aggressive behavior while that in the VMN reduced both behaviors in gonadally intact adult male mice. Knockdown of ERα in the MeA did not alter either behavior. These results indicate that ERα in both the MPOA and VMN is required for testosterone to facilitate male sexual behavior, whereas ERα only in the VMN is required for testosterone to facilitate male aggressive behavior among these three brain regions.