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Brain Res. 2005 May 31;1045(1-2):107-15. Epub 2005 Apr 20.

Sexually dimorphic hormonal regulation of the gap junction protein, CX43, in rats and altered female reproductive function in CX43+/- mice.

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  • 1Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Department of Neuroscience, 1300 Morris Park Avenue F113, Bronx, NY 10461, USA.


Astrocytic gap junctional communication is important in steroid hormone regulation of reproductive processes at the level of the hypothalamus, including estrous cyclicity and sexual behavior. We examined the effects of estradiol and progesterone on the abundance of the gap junctional protein, connexin 43 (CX43), which is highly expressed in astrocytes. Gonadectomized rats received hormone treatments that induce maximal sexual behavior and gonadotropin surges in females (estrogen for 48 h followed by progesterone, estrogen alone or progesterone alone). Control animals received vehicle (oil) injections. In the female rat preoptic area (POA), containing the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) cell bodies, treatment with estrogen, progesterone or estrogen + progesterone significantly increased CX43 protein levels in immunoblots. In contrast, estrogen + progesterone significantly decreased CX43 levels in the male rat POA. This sexually dimorphic hormonal regulation of CX43 was not evident in the hypothalamus, which contains primarily GnRH nerve terminals. Treatment with estrogen + progesterone significantly decreased CX43 levels in both the male and female hypothalamus. To examine the role of CX43 in female reproductive function, we studied heterozygous female CX43 (CX43+/-) mice. Most mutant mice did not show normal estrous cycles. In addition, when compared to wild type females, CX43+/- mice had reduced lordosis behavior. These data suggest that hypothalamic CX43 expression is regulated by steroid hormones in a brain-region-specific and sexually dimorphic manner. Therefore, gap junctional communication in the POA and hypothalamus may be a factor regulating the estrous cycle and sexual behavior in female rodents.

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