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Folia Primatol (Basel). 1992;59(1):1-25.

Environmental and social determinants of sexual function in the male lesser mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus).

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  • 1CNRS, URA 1183, MNHN, Brunoy, France.


Environmental factors that regulate the sexual activity of male lesser mouse lemurs have been studied experimentally with more than 60 captive animals over an 8-year period. In this nocturnal Malagasy prosimian, variation in day length is the primary factor controlling seasonal sexual activity. Plasma testosterone concentrations were low (= 9 ng/ml) during short days and reached 60 ng/ml during long days (> 12-hour day). This cyclic pattern persists unchanged when artificial photoperiodic rhythms are applied and is not altered by ageing. The timing of puberty is also regulated by photoperiodic changes. Nevertheless, the sexual activity of the male lesser mouse lemur can be dramatically modified by the social environment. In heterosexual groups, behavioural and physiological components of sexual activity are depressed in all males except the dominant one, whose aggressive interactions are always successful. Intermale sexual inhibition was shown to be mediated by chemical cues present in the urine of dominant or isolated males but not in urine of subordinate individuals. The inhibitory signals possess lipophilic properties and are not contingent on the gonadal activity of the urine donor but are linked to adrenocortical activity. By contrast, chemical signals stimulating the reproductive function of all males are found in the urine of females, the presence of which is required for the establishment of clear dominance among grouped males. Endocrine mechanisms underlying intermale sexual inhibition by chemical cues were analysed. Variations in prolactin strongly suggest that olfaction interacts with the photoperiodic regulation of reproductive function, leading to changes in the sensitivity of the negative feedback effect of testosterone on gonadotrophin secretion. Inhibitory or stimulatory effects of chemical signals are discussed in the context of their functional significance for wild populations.

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