Journal of neuroendocrinology

Role of Oestrogen α Receptors in Sociosexual Behaviour in Female Rats Housed in a Seminatural Environment.

PMID 26314929


The present study investigated the role of oestrogen receptor (ER)α in the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMN), the preoptic area (POA), the medial amygdala (MePD) and the bed nucleus of stria terminalis (BNST) in sociosexual behaviour in female rats. This was conducted in two sets of experiments, with the VMN and POA investigated in the first set, and the MePD and BNST in the second set. The VMN and POA received intense projections from the MePD and BNST. We used a short hairpin RNA encoded within an adeno-associated viral vector directed against the gene for ERα to reduce the number of ERα in the VMN or POA (first set of experiments) or in the BNST or MePD (second set of experiments) in female rats. The rats were housed in groups of four ovariectomised females and three males in a seminatural environment for 8 days. Compared with traditional test set-ups, the seminatural environment provides an arena in which the rats can express their full behavioural repertoire, which allowed us to investigate multiple aspects of social and sexual behaviour in groups of rats. Behavioural observation was performed after oestrogen and progesterone injections. A reduction of ERα expression in the VMN or POA diminished the display of paracopulatory behaviours and lordosis responses compared to controls, whereas the lordosis quotient remained unaffected. This suggests that ERα in the VMN and POA play an important role in intrinsic sexual motivation. The reduction in ERα did not affect the social behaviour of the females, although the males sniffed and pursued the females with reduced ERα less than the controls. This suggests that the ERα in the VMN and POA is involved in the regulation of sexual attractiveness of females. The ERα in the MePD and BNST, on the other hand, plays no role in sociosexual behaviour.