Increased vasopressin expression in the BNST accompanies paternally induced territoriality in male and female California mouse offspring

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While developmental consequences of parental investment on species-typical social behaviors has been extensively characterized in same-sex parent-offspring interactions, the impact of opposite-sex relationships is less clear. In the bi-parental California mouse (Peromyscus californicus), paternal retrieval behavior induces territorial aggression and the expression of arginine vasopressin (AVP) in adult male offspring. Although similar patterns of territorially emerge among females, the sexually dimorphic AVP system has not been considered since it is generally thought to regulate male-typical behavior. However, we recently demonstrated that male and female P. californicus offspring experience increases in plasma testosterone following paternal retrieval. Since AVP expression is androgen-dependent during development, we postulate that increases in AVP expression may accompany territoriality in female, as well as male offspring. To explore this aim, adult P. californicus offspring that received either high or low levels of paternal care (retrievals) during early development were tested for territoriality and immunohistochemical analysis of AVP within the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), paraventricular nucleus (PVN), and supraoptic nucleus (SON). Consistent with previous studies, high care offspring were more aggressive than low care offspring. Moreover, high care offspring had significantly more AVP immunoreactive (AVP-ir) cells within the BNST than low care offspring. This pattern was observed within female as well as male offspring, suggesting an equally salient role for paternal care on female offspring physiology. Regardless of early social experience, sex differences in AVP persisted in the BNST, with males having greater expression than females.

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