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Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2018 Apr 18;9:173. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2018.00173. eCollection 2018.

Sex Differences in Medium Spiny Neuron Excitability and Glutamatergic Synaptic Input: Heterogeneity Across Striatal Regions and Evidence for Estradiol-Dependent Sexual Differentiation.

Cao J1,2, Willett JA1,2,3, Dorris DM1, Meitzen J1,2,4,5.

Author information

1
Department of Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, United States.
2
W.M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, United States.
3
Graduate Program in Physiology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, United States.
4
Center for Human Health and the Environment, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, United States.
5
Comparative Medicine Institute, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, United States.

Abstract

Steroid sex hormones and biological sex influence how the brain regulates motivated behavior, reward, and sensorimotor function in both normal and pathological contexts. Investigations into the underlying neural mechanisms have targeted the striatal brain regions, including the caudate-putamen, nucleus accumbens core (AcbC), and shell. These brain regions are of particular interest to neuroendocrinologists given that they express membrane-associated but not nuclear estrogen receptors, and also the well-established role of the sex steroid hormone 17β-estradiol (estradiol) in modulating striatal dopamine systems. Indeed, output neurons of the striatum, the medium spiny neurons (MSNs), exhibit estradiol sensitivity and sex differences in electrophysiological properties. Here, we review sex differences in rat MSN glutamatergic synaptic input and intrinsic excitability across striatal regions, including evidence for estradiol-mediated sexual differentiation in the nucleus AcbC. In prepubertal animals, female MSNs in the caudate-putamen exhibit a greater intrinsic excitability relative to male MSNs, but no sex differences are detected in excitatory synaptic input. Alternatively, female MSNs in the nucleus AcbC exhibit increased excitatory synaptic input relative to male MSNs, but no sex differences in intrinsic excitability were detected. Increased excitatory synaptic input onto female MSNs in the nucleus AcbC is abolished after masculinizing estradiol or testosterone exposure during the neonatal critical period. No sex differences are detected in MSNs in prepubertal nucleus accumbens shell. Thus, despite possessing the same neuron type, striatal regions exhibit heterogeneity in sex differences in MSN electrophysiological properties, which likely contribute to the sex differences observed in striatal function.

KEYWORDS:

caudate–putamen; electrophysiology; estradiol; hormones; medium spiny neuron; nucleus accumbens; sex; striatum

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