Gonadal hormones, but not sex, affect the acquisition and maintenance of a Go/No-Go odor discrimination task in mice

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In mice, olfaction is crucial for identifying social odors (pheromones) that signal the presence of suitable mates. We used a custom-built olfactometer and a thirst-motivated olfactory discrimination Go/No-Go (GNG) task to ask whether discrimination of volatile odors is sexually dimorphic and modulated in mice by adult sex hormones. Males and females gonadectomized prior to training failed to learn even the initial phase of the task, which involved nose poking at a port in one location obtaining water at an adjacent port. Gonadally intact males and females readily learned to seek water when male urine (S+) was present but not when female urine (S−) was present; they also learned the task when non-social odorants (amyl acetate, S+; peppermint, S−) were used. When mice were gonadectomized after training the ability of both sexes to discriminate urinary as well as non-social odors was reduced; however, after receiving testosterone propionate (castrated males) or estradiol benzoate (ovariectomized females), task performance was restored to pre-gonadectomy levels. There were no overall sex differences in performance across gonadal conditions in tests with either set of odors; however, ovariectomized females performed more poorly than castrated males in tests with non-social odors. Our results show that circulating sex hormones enable mice of both sexes to learn a GNG task and that gonadectomy reduces, while hormone replacement restores, their ability to discriminate between odors irrespective of the saliency of the odors used. Thus, gonadal hormones were essential for both learning and maintenance of task performance across sex and odor type.HIGHLIGHTSGonad-intact, but not gonadectomized mice learn a Go/No-Go odor discrimination task.Male and female performance is diminished following gonadectomy.In general, mice perform the task equivalently with social or non-social odors.

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