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Horm Behav. 2002 Sep;42(2):148-57.

Sexual experience interacts with steroid exposure to shape the partner preferences of rats.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles 90095-1653, USA.


A three-phase experiment manipulated sexual experience and hormone exposure (perinatally and in adulthood) in female rats housed individually from weaning so as to limit peripubertal social and sexual experience. Noncontact partner preference for a male or estrous female rat was measured both before and after sexual experience, first while rats were under the influence of circulating testosterone propionate (TP) and later after priming them with ovarian hormones (estradiol benzoate and progesterone; EB & P). When implanted with TP capsules and tested while sexually naive, all groups of female rats preferred females to males without differing statistically. However, following three sexual experience sessions with estrous females, differences emerged between the masculinized and control groups in the magnitude of their female-directed preference, with masculinized females demonstrating a significantly greater preference for estrous females. Sexual experience with male rats under EB & P did not result in a significant shift in preference in any group. Histological assessment indicated that the volume of the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area (SDN-POA) was increased by exposure to TP postnatally, and SDN-POA volume correlated positively with partner preference scores but only when rats were both sexually experienced and exposed to circulating TP in adulthood. These results suggest that sexual experience interacts with steroid exposure to shape partner preference.

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