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J Comp Neurol. 1996 Nov 11;375(2):333-43.

Sexual dimorphism of perineal muscles and motoneurons in spotted hyenas.

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Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst 01003, USA.


Female spotted hyenas are known for their male-like genitalia, high levels of aggression, and dominance over males, characteristics which are attributed to exposure to elevated levels of testosterone in utero. Although the nervous system of spotted hyenas has not previously been examined, one might predict that neural systems which are sexually dimorphic in other mammals would be monomorphic in this species. Spinal motoneurons which innervate muscles associated with the phallus are located in Onuf's nucleus and are more numerous in males than in females in a wide array of mammals. Onuf's nucleus was examined in adult and neonatal spotted hyenas and, contrary to expectation, was found to be sexually dimorphic in the typical mammalian pattern: Males have significantly more motoneurons in Onuf's nucleus than do females. This dimorphism was correlated with a previously undescribed dimorphism in the relevant target musculature. Specifically, the morphology of the bulbocavernosus muscle is distinctly different in male and female spotted hyenas. Pregnant hyenas were treated with anti-androgen in an attempt to interfere with the actions of androgen during fetal development. Motoneuron number in Onuf's nucleus and the morphology of the bulbocavernosus muscle were feminized in males exposed to anti-androgen in utero.

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