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Neurobiol Dis. 2012 May;46(2):486-96. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2012.02.014. Epub 2012 Feb 28.

Neonatal testosterone partially organizes sex differences in stress-induced emotionality in mice.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh Medical School, Pittsburgh, PA 15219, USA.


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a debilitating disorder of altered mood regulation. Despite well established sex differences in MDD prevalence, the mechanism underlying the increased female vulnerability remains unknown. Although evidence suggests an influence of adult circulating hormone levels on mood (i.e. activational effects of hormones), MDD prevalence is consistently higher in women across life stages (and therefore hormonal states), suggesting that additional underlying structural or biological differences place women at higher risk. Studies in human subjects and in rodent models suggest a developmental origin for mood disorders, and interestingly, a developmental process also establishes sex differences in the brain. Hence, based on these parallel developmental trajectories, we hypothesized that a proportion of the female higher vulnerability to MDD may originate from the differential organization of mood regulatory neural networks early in life (i.e. organizational effects of hormones). To test this hypothesis in a rodent system, we took advantage of a well-established technique used in the field of sexual differentiation (neonatal injection with testosterone) to masculinize sexually dimorphic brain regions in female mice. We then investigated adult behavioral consequences relating to emotionality by comparing neonatal testosterone-treated females to normal males and females. Under baseline/trait conditions, neonatal testosterone treatment of female mice did not influence adult emotionality, but masculinized adult locomotor activity, as revealed by the activational actions of hormones. Conversely, the increased vulnerability of female mice to develop high emotionality following unpredictable chronic mild stress (UCMS) was partially masculinized by neonatal testosterone exposure, with no effect on post-UCMS locomotion. The elevated female UCMS-induced vulnerability did not differ between adult hormone treated groups. These results demonstrate that sex differences in adult emotionality in mice are partially caused by the organizational effects of sex hormones during development, hence supporting a developmental hypothesis of the human adult female prevalence of MDD.

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