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Keywords:

  • cell death;
  • c-Fos;
  • olfactory preference;
  • sex difference

Abstract

Bax is a pro-death protein that plays a crucial role in developmental neuronal cell death. Bax−/− mice exhibit increased neuron number and lack several neural sex differences. Here we examined the effects of Bax gene deletion on social behaviors (olfactory preference, social recognition, social approach and aggression) and the neural processing of olfactory cues. Bax deletion eliminated the normal sex difference in olfactory preference behavior. In the social recognition test, both genotypes discriminated a novel conspecific, but wild-type males and Bax−/− animals of both sexes spent much more time than wild-type females investigating stimulus animals. Similarly, Bax−/− mice were more sociable than wild-type mice in a social approach test. Bax deletion had no effect on aggression in a resident/intruder paradigm where males, regardless of genotype, exhibited a shorter latency to attack. Thus, the prevention of neuronal cell death by Bax gene deletion results in greater sociability as well as the elimination of sex differences in some social behaviors. To examine olfactory processing of socially relevant cues, we counted c-Fos-immunoreactive (Fos-ir) cells in several nodes of the accessory olfactory pathway after exposure to male-soiled or control bedding. In both genotypes, exposure to male-soiled bedding increased Fos-ir cells in the posterodorsal medial amygdala, principal nucleus of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and medial preoptic nucleus (MPN), and the response in the MPN was greater in females than in males. However, a reduction in Fos-ir cells was seen in the anteroventral periventricular nucleus of Bax−/− mice.