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Keywords:

  • androgens;
  • chromatin remodeling;
  • estrogens;
  • histone modification;
  • hypothalamus;
  • sex behavior

Abstract

Expression of sexually dimorphic behaviors critical for reproduction depends on the organizational actions of steroid hormones on the developing brain. We offer the new hypothesis that transcriptional activities in brain regions executing these sexually dimorphic behaviors are modulated by estrogen-induced modifications of histone proteins. Specifically, in preoptic nerve cells responsible for facilitating male sexual behavior in rodents, gene expression is fostered by increased histone acetylation and reduced methylation (Me), and, that the opposite set of histone modifications will be found in females. Conversely, in ventromedial hypothalamic neurons that are responsible for coordinating female sexual behavior, transcriptional activities in genetic females are fostered by increased histone acetylation and reduced Me, and, further, that the opposite set of histone modifications will be found in males. Thus, these epigenetic events will guarantee that effects of sex hormone exposure during the neonatal critical period will be translated into lasting sex differences in adult reproductive behaviors.