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Endocrinology. 2016 Dec;157(12):4914-4929. Epub 2016 Oct 5.

Bmal1 Is Required for Normal Reproductive Behaviors in Male Mice.

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Department of Reproductive Medicine and the Center for Reproductive Science and Medicine (E.L.S., D.D.C., N.V.C., S.J.S., L.W.C., A.S.K., P.L.M.), University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0674; and Department of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience (S.D., L.S.), The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California 92037.


Circadian rhythms synchronize physiological processes with the light-dark cycle and are regulated by a hierarchical system initiated in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a hypothalamic region that receives direct photic input. The suprachiasmatic nucleus then entrains additional oscillators in the periphery. Circadian rhythms are maintained by a molecular transcriptional feedback loop, of which brain and muscle aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator-like protein 1 (BMAL1) is a key member. Disruption of circadian rhythms by deletion of the BMAL1 gene (Bmal1 knockout [KO]) induces a variety of disease states, including infertility in males, due to unidentified mechanisms. We find that, despite normal sperm function, Bmal1 KO males fail to mate with receptive females, indicating a behavioral defect. Mating is dependent on pheromone detection, as are several other behaviors. We determined that Bmal1 KO males also fail to display aggression and avoidance of predator scent, despite intact main olfactory function. Moreover, the vomeronasal organ, a specialized pheromone-responsive organ, was also functionally intact, as determined by calcium imaging in response to urine pheromone stimulus. However, neural circuit tracing using c-FOS activation revealed that, although Bmal1 KO males displayed appropriate activation in the olfactory bulb and accessory olfactory bulb, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and the medial preoptic area (areas responsible for integration of copulatory behaviors) failed to activate highly in response to the female scent. This indicates that neural signaling in select behavioral centers is impaired in the absence of BMAL1, likely underlying Bmal1 KO male copulatory defects, demonstrating the importance of the BMAL1 protein in the maintenance of neural circuits that drive pheromone-mediated mating behaviors.

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