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Behav Brain Res. 2013 Jan 1;236(1):131-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2012.08.044. Epub 2012 Sep 4.

Seasonal and sex differences in the hippocampus of a wild rodent.

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Department of Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB, Canada.


Studies across and within species suggest that hippocampus size is sexually dimorphic in polygamous species, but not in monogamous species. Although hippocampal volume varies with sex, season and mating system, few studies have simultaneously tested for sex and seasonal differences. Here, we test for sex and seasonal differences in the hippocampal volume of wild Richardson's ground squirrels (Urocitellus richardsonii), a polygamous species that lives in matrilineal, kin-based social groups and has profound sex differences in behavior. Based on the behavior and ecology of this species, we predicted that males would have a significantly larger hippocampus than females and that the hippocampus would be largest in males during the breeding season. Analyses of both absolute and relative volumes of the hippocampus yielded a significant difference between the sexes and seasons as well as an interaction between the two such that non-breeding males have significantly larger hippocampal volumes than breeding males or females from either season. Dentate gyrus, CA1 and CA3 subfield volumes were generally larger in the non-breeding season and in males, but no significant interaction effects were detected. This sex and seasonal variation in hippocampal volume is likely the result of their social organization and male-only food caching behavior during the non-breeding season. The demonstration of a sex and seasonal variation in hippocampal volume suggests that Richardson's ground squirrel may be a useful model for understanding hippocampal plasticity within a natural context.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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