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Keywords:

  • estrogen receptor alpha;
  • estrogen receptor beta;
  • medial amygdala;
  • PVN;
  • social behavior

Abstract

The incidence of social disorders such as autism and schizophrenia is significantly higher in males, and the presentation more severe, than in females. This suggests the possible contribution of sex hormones to the development of these psychiatric disorders. There is also evidence that these disorders are highly heritable. To contribute toward our understanding of the mechanisms underlying social behaviors, particularly social interaction, we assessed the relationship of social interaction with gene expression for two neuropeptides, oxytocin (OT) and arginine vasopressin (AVP), using adult male mice. Social interaction was positively correlated with: oxytocin receptor (OTR) and vasopressin receptor (V1aR) mRNA expression in the medial amygdala; and OT and AVP mRNA expression in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN). When mice representing extremes of social interaction were compared, all of these mRNAs were more highly expressed in high social interaction mice than in low social interaction mice. OTR and V1aR mRNAs were highly correlated with estrogen receptor α (ERα) mRNA in the medial amygdala, and OT and AVP mRNAs with estrogen receptor β (ERβ) mRNA in the PVN, indicating that OT and AVP systems are tightly regulated by estrogen receptors. A significant difference in the level of ERα mRNA in the medial amygdala between high and low social interaction mice was also observed. These results support the hypothesis that variations of estrogen receptor levels are associated with differences in social interaction through the OT and AVP systems, by upregulating gene expression for those peptides and their receptors.