Distribution of Vasopressin in the Brain of the Eusocial Naked Mole-Rat

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Abstract

Naked mole-rats are eusocial rodents that live in large subterranean colonies in which one queen breeds with one to three males. All other animals are nonbreeding subordinates. The external features of male and female subordinates, including their genitalia, are remarkably monomorphic, as is their behavior. Because vasopressin (VP) is associated with social behaviors and sex differences in other species, its distribution in naked mole-rats was of interest. We used immunohistochemistry to examine VP in the brains of subordinate and breeding naked mole-rats of both sexes. As in other mammals, VP-immunoreactive (-ir) somata were found in the paraventricular (PVN) and supraoptic nuclei (SON) and VP-ir projections from these nuclei ran through the internal and external zone of the median eminence. However, naked mole-rats had very few VP-ir cells in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST) and none in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN); the extensive network of fine-caliber VP-ir fibers usually seen in projection sites of the BST and SCN were also absent. Equally unexpected was the abundance of large-caliber VP-ir fibers in the dorsomedial septum. VP immunoreactivity was generally similar in all groups, with the exception of VP-ir cell number in the dorsomedial hypothalamus (DMH). Breeders had a population of labeled cells in the DMH that was absent, or nearly absent, in subordinates. Future studies on the function of VP in these areas are needed to determine how the atypical distribution of VP immunoreactivity relates to eusociality and the unusual physiology of naked mole-rats. J. Comp. Neurol. 500:1093–1105, 2007. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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