Gonadal Hormone-Dependent Sexual Differentiation of a Female-Biased Sexually Dimorphic Cell Group in the Principal Nucleus of the Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis in Mice

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We recently reported a female-biased sexually dimorphic area in the mouse brain in the boundary region between the preoptic area and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). We reexamined this area and found that it is a ventral part of the principal nucleus of the BNST (BNSTp). The BNSTp is a male-biased sexually dimorphic nucleus, but the ventral part of the BNSTp (BNSTpv) exhibits female-biased sex differences in volume and neuron number. The volume and neuron number of the BNSTpv were increased in males by neonatal orchiectomy and decreased in females by treatment with testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, or estradiol within 5 days after birth. Sex differences in the volume and neuron number of the BNSTpv emerged before puberty. These sex differences became prominent in adulthood with increasing volume in females and loss of neurons in males during the pubertal/adolescent period. Prepubertal orchiectomy did not affect the BNSTpv, although prepubertal ovariectomy reduced the volume increase and induced loss of neurons in the female BNSTpv. In contrast, the volume and neuron number of male-biased sexually dimorphic nuclei that are composed of mainly calbindin neurons and are located in the preoptic area and BNST were decreased by prepubertal orchiectomy but not affected by prepubertal ovariectomy. Testicular testosterone during the postnatal period may defeminize the BNSTpv via binding directly to the androgen receptor and indirectly to the estrogen receptor after aromatization, although defeminization may proceed independently of testicular hormones in the pubertal/adolescent period. Ovarian hormones may act to feminize the BNSTpv during the pubertal/adolescent period.

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