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Endocrine. 2006 Jun;29(3):501-11.

The effect of aromatase inhibition on the sexual differentiation of the sheep brain.

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Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR 97239, USA.


This study tested the hypothesis that aromatization of testosterone to estradiol is necessary for sexual differentiation of the sheep brain. Pregnant ewes (n = 10) were treated with the aromatase inhibitor 1,4,6- androstatriene-3,17-dione (ATD) during the period of gestation when the sheep brain is maximally sensitive to the behavior-modifying effects of exogenous testosterone (embryonic d 50-80; 147 d is term). Control (n = 10) ewes received vehicle injections. Fifteen control lambs (7 males and 8 females) and 17 ATD-exposed lambs (7 males and 10 females) were evaluated for sexually dimorphic behavioral and neuroendocrine traits as adults. Prenatal ATD exposure had no significant effect on serum concentrations of androgen at birth, growth rates, expression of juvenile play behaviors, or the onset of puberty in male and female lambs. Rams exposed to ATD prenatally exhibited a modest, but significant, decrease in mounting behavior at 18 mo of age. However, prenatal ATD exposure did not interfere with defeminization of adult sexual partner preferences, receptive behavior, or the LH surge mechanism. In summary, our results indicate that aromatization is necessary for complete behavioral masculinization in sheep. However, before we can conclude that aromatization does not play a role in defeminization of the sheep brain, it will be necessary to evaluate whether intrauterine exposure of male fetuses to higher doses of ATD for a more extended period of time can disrupt normal neuroendocrine and behavioral development.

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