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Keywords:

  • extended amygdala;
  • olfaction;
  • pheromone;
  • reproduction

Abstract

In Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus), the expression of reproductive behavior requires the perception of social odors. The behavioral response to these odors is mediated by a network of ventral forebrain nuclei, including the posterior bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (pBNST). Previous studies have tested the role of the pBNST in reproductive behavior, but the use of large, fiber-damaging lesions in these studies make it difficult to attribute post-lesion deficits to the pBNST specifically. Thus, the current study used discrete, excitotoxic lesions of the pBNST to test the role of the pBNST in opposite-sex odor preference and copulatory behavior in both sexually-naive and sexually-experienced males. Lesions of the pBNST decreased sexually-naive males’ investigation of volatile female odors, resulting in an elimination of opposite-sex odor preference. This elimination of preference was not due to a sensory deficit, as males with pBNST lesions were able to discriminate between odors. When, however, subjects were given sexual experience prior to pBNST lesions, their preference for volatile opposite-sex odors remained intact post-lesion. Similarly, when sexually-naive or sexually-experienced subjects were allowed to contact the social odors during the preference test, lesions of the pBNST decreased males’ investigation of female odors but did not eliminate preference for opposite-sex odors, regardless of sexual experience. Finally, lesions of the pBNST delayed the copulatory sequence in sexually-naive, but not sexually-experienced, males such that they took longer to mount, intromit, ejaculate and display long intromissions. Together, these results demonstrate that the pBNST plays a unique and critical role in both appetitive and consummatory aspects of male reproductive behaviors.