Neuronal nitric oxide synthase and calbindin delineate sex differences in the developing hypothalamus and preoptic area



Throughout the hypothalamus there are several regions known to contain sex differences in specific cellular, neurochemical, or cell grouping characteristics. The current study examined the potential origin of sex differences in calbindin expression in the preoptic area and hypothalamus as related to sources of nitric oxide. Specific cell populations were defined by immunoreactive (ir) calbindin and neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) in the preoptic area/anterior hypothalamus (POA/AH), anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPv), and ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMN). The POA/AH of adult mice was characterized by a striking sex difference in the distribution of cells with ir-calbindin. Examination of the POA/AH of androgen receptor deficient Tfm mice suggests that this pattern was in part androgen receptor dependent, since Tfm males had reduced ir-calbindin compared with wild-type males and more similar to wild-type females. At P0 ir-calbindin was more prevalent than in adulthood, with males having significantly more ir-calbindin and nNOS than have females. Cells that contained either ir-calbindin or ir-nNOS in the POA/AH were in adjacent cell groups, suggesting that NO derived from the enzymatic activity of nNOS may influence the development of ir-calbindin cells. In the region of AVPv, at P0, there was a sex difference with males having more ir-nNOS fibers than have females while ir-calbindin was not detected. In the VMN, at P0, ir-nNOS was greater in females than in males, with no significant difference in ir-calbindin. We suggest that NO as an effector molecule and calbindin as a molecular biomarker illuminate key aspects of sexual differentiation in the developing mouse brain. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Develop Neurobiol, 2007.