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Neuroendocrinology. 2008;88(1):17-24. doi: 10.1159/000119740. Epub 2008 Mar 5.

Gonadal steroids regulate neural plasticity in the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area of adult male and female rats.

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Neuroscience Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1101, USA.



The densely staining sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area (SDNPOA) is profoundly affected by gonadal steroids during perinatal development.


We tested whether the SDNPOA in rats also remains responsive to gonadal hormones in adulthood.


Castration of 60-day-old male rats led to a reduction of soma size in SDNPOA neurons 28 days later, but not 14 days later. In contrast, the SDNPOA volume in males was unaffected by adult castration, increasing somewhat between 60 and 88 days of age in both castrated males and sham controls. For female rats ovariectomized at 60 days of age, testosterone treatment resulted in a significantly larger SDNPOA soma size after either 14 or 28 days of treatment, compared to blank-treated controls. Testosterone-treated ovariectomized females also had a modestly larger SDNPOA volume after 28 days, but not 14 days, of treatment compared to blank-treated ovariectomized animals. A second experiment revealed that these effects in females were due to ovariectomy: both SDNPOA soma size and regional volume shrank in females that were ovariectomized compared to females subjected to sham surgery. The effects of ovariectomy were blocked by testosterone treatment. The cessation of testosterone treatment in females returned SDNPOA soma size and regional volume to that of control-treated ovariectomized females.


These results indicate considerable plasticity of the adult rat SDNPOA, and that (1) circulating androgens are required to maintain soma size, but not regional volume in males, and (2) ovarian steroids maintain both soma size and regional volume of the SDNPOA in females, an effect that can be mimicked with testosterone treatment and is fully reversible in adulthood.

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