Effects of sex and reproductive experience on the number of orexin A-immunoreactive cells in the prairie vole brain

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Abstract

Large populations of cells synthesizing the neuropeptide orexin (OX) exist in the caudal hypothalamus of all species examined and are implicated in physiological and behavioral processes including arousal, stress, anxiety and depression, reproduction, and goal-directed behaviors. Hypothalamic OX expression is sexually dimorphic in different directions in laboratory rats (F > M) and mice (M > F), suggesting different roles in male and female physiology and behavior that are species-specific. We here examined if the number of hypothalamic cells immunoreactive for orexin A (OXA) differs between male and female prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster), a socially monogamous species that pairbonds after mating and in which both sexes care for offspring, and if reproductive experience influences their number of OXA-immunoreactive (OXA-ir) cells. It was found that the total number of OXA-ir cells did not differ between the sexes, but females had more OXA-ir cells than males in anterior levels of the caudal hypothalamus, while males had more OXA-ir cells posteriorly. Sexually experienced females sacrificed 12 days after the birth of their first litter, or one day after birth of a second litter, had more OXA-ir cells in anterior levels but not posterior levels of the caudal hypothalamus compared to females housed with a brother (incest avoidance prevents sibling mating). Male prairie voles showed no effect of reproductive experience but showed an unexpected effect of cohabitation duration regardless of mating. The sex difference in the distribution of OXA-ir cells, and their increased number in anterior levels of the caudal hypothalamus of reproductively experienced female prairie voles, may reflect a sex-specific mechanism involved in pairbonding, parenting, or lactation in this species.

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