Mating-relevant olfactory stimuli activate the rat brain in an age-dependent manner

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Abstract

Chemosensory stimulation is vital for the expression of rodent sexual behavior. As sexual activity decreases with aging, this study investigated whether aging also impacts the integration of sex-relevant chemosensory cues. To this end, several measures were obtained from adult (10–12 months) and aged (30–36 months) male rats after exposure to a conspecific estrous female. These included rates of investigatory behaviors, levels of stimulus-induced Fos immunoreactivity, activation of gonadotropin-releasing hormone-containing cells, and levels of circulating testosterone and corticosterone. The results indicated no significant differences in investigatory behaviors, levels of corticosterone, or activation of gonadotropin-releasing hormone-containing cells between the two groups. As has been reported previously, the levels of testosterone were lower in the aged rats. However, stimulus-induced neural activity was higher in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and the medial preoptic area of aged rats, whereas no differences were found in the main olfactory bulb, accessory olfactory bulb, medial amygdala, ventral tegmental area, or nucleus accumbens. These findings suggest the presence of a compensatory mechanism in the hypothalamus of aged animals versus adults, whereby more cells are recruited to elicit a sexual response in the presence of a sexually exciting stimulus.

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