Sex differences in the antagonism of swim stress-induced analgesia: effects of gonadectomy and estrogen replacement

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SummarySex differences in the neurochemical mediation of swim stress-induced analgesia (SSIA) were examined in Swiss-Webster mice. Intact and gonadectomized adult mice of both sexes were tested for their analgesic response (hot-plate test) to 3 min of forced swimming in 15°C and 20°C water. SSIA resulting from 15°C swim was previously shown to be naloxone-insensitive (i.e., non-opioid) whereas SSIA resulting from 20°C swim produced an analgesia that was partially reversible by naloxone (i.e., mixed opioid/non-opioid). The non-opioid components of these SSIA paradigms were attenuated by the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, dizocilpine (MK-801). We now report that in males, but not females, dizocilpine (0.075 mg/kg i.p.) and naloxone (10 mg/kg i.p.) antagonized the non-opioid and opioid components of SSIA, respectively. After ovariectomy, females displayed a pattern of antagonism similar to males such that dizocilpine attenuated non-opioid SSIA, although naloxone remained ineffective in antagonizing 20°C SSIA. Thus, SSIA in intact females was neither opioid- nor NMDA-mediated, yet it was of similar magnitude to the SSIA displayed by intact males. In separate experiments, estrogen replacement (estrogen benzoate; 5.0 μg/day, i.p.) administered to ovariectomized mice over a 6–8 day period reinstated the dizocilpine-insensitivity of 15°C SSIA characteristic of intact females. However, a similar estrogen regimen administered to both intact and castrated males did not compromise the sensitivity to dizocilpine previously noted in male mice. These findings suggest the existence of a novel female-specific estrogen-dependent mechanism of SSIA and highlight the need to consider gender as a factor in basic and clinical research in this area.

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