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Brain Res. 2004 Aug 6;1016(2):247-54.

Intraspecific variation in estrogen receptor alpha and the expression of male sociosexual behavior in two populations of prairie voles.

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The Brain-Body Center, Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.


Estrogen (E) regulates a variety of male sociosexual behaviors. We hypothesize that there is a relationship between the distribution of estrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) and the degree of male social behavior. To test this hypothesis, ERalpha immunoreactivity (IR) was compared in prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) from Illinois (IL), which are highly social, and Kansas (KN), which are less social. The expression of androgen receptors (AR) in males also was compared between populations. The expression of ERalpha and AR were compared in brains from KN and IL males and females using immunocytochemistry (ICC). There were significant intrapopulational differences, with males expressing less ERalpha-IR than females in the medial preoptic area, ventromedial nucleus, ventrolateral portion of the hypothalamus, and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST). IL males also displayed less ERalpha-IR in the medial amygdala (MeA) than IL females. While IL males expressed significantly less ERalpha-IR in the BST and MeA than KN males, there was no difference in AR-IR. Differences in the pattern of ERalpha-IR between KN and IL males were behaviorally relevant, as low levels of testosterone (T) were more effective in restoring sexual activity in castrated KN males than IL males. The lack of difference in AR combined with lower expression of ERalpha-IR in IL males suggests that behavioral differences in response to T are associated with aromatization of T to E and that reduced sensitivity to E may facilitate prosocial behavior in males.

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