Distinct neuroendocrine mechanisms control neural activity underlying sex differences in sexual motivation and performance

Authors


Correspondence: Dr J. Balthazart, as above.

E-mail: jbalthazart@ulg.ac.be

Abstract

Sexual behavior can be usefully parsed into an appetitive and a consummatory component. Both appetitive and consummatory male-typical sexual behaviors (respectively, ASB and CSB) are activated in male Japanese quail by testosterone (T) acting in the medial preoptic nucleus (POM), but never observed in females. This sex difference is based on a demasculinization (= organizational effect) by estradiol during embryonic life for CSB, but a differential activation by T in adulthood for ASB. Males expressing rhythmic cloacal sphincter movements (RCSMs; a form of ASB) or allowed to copulate display increased Fos expression in POM. We investigated Fos brain responses in females exposed to behavioral tests after various endocrine treatments. T-treated females displayed RCSM, but never copulated when exposed to another female. Accordingly they showed an increased Fos expression in POM after ASB but not CSB tests. Females treated with the aromatase inhibitor Vorozole in ovo and T in adulthood displayed both male-typical ASB and CSB, and Fos expression in POM was increased after both types of tests. Thus, the neural circuit mediating ASB is present or can develop in both sexes, but is inactive in females unless they are exposed to exogenous T. In contrast, the neural mechanism mediating CSB is not normally present in females, but can be preserved by blocking the embryonic production of estrogens. Overall these data confirm the difference in endocrine controls and probably neural mechanisms supporting ASB and CSB in quail, and highlight the complexity of mechanisms underlying sexual differentiation of behavior.

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