Region-specific effects of copulation on dendritic spine morphology and gene expression related to spinogenesis in the medial preoptic nucleus of male rats.


Area of Regulatory Biology, Division of Life Science, Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Saitama University, Saitama 338-8570, Japan. Electronic address: [Email]


The medial preoptic nucleus (MPN) plays an essential role in the control of male sexual behavior. In rats, the central part of the MPN (MPNc) contains a sexually dimorphic nucleus exhibiting male-biased morphological sex differences. Although it has been suggested that the MPNc of male rats functions to induce sexual arousal, the mechanisms by which male rats are sexually aroused to successfully achieve copulation are poorly understood. We recently showed that increased neuronal activity in the MPNc of male rats during copulation is higher at their first copulation compared with later copulations, indicating that a plastic change in excitatory synaptic transmission occurs with copulatory experience. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that changes to dendritic spines at structural and molecular levels occur following copulatory experience. First, we examined the effects of at least two copulations on the morphology of dendrites and spines in the MPNc and in the lateral and medial parts of the MPN (MPNlm) of male rats. In the MPNc, the total number of dendrites and their branches, and the surface area of dendrites were not significantly affected by copulation. However, the copulatory experience, specifically experience of ejaculation, significantly reduced the density of mushroom spines but not of filopodia, thin or stubby spines in the MPNc. In the MPNlm, the copulatory experience, specifically experience of ejaculation, significantly increased the surface area of dendrites, although there was no significant effect of copulation on spine density. Next, we measured the mRNA levels of genes encoding actin-binding proteins related to spinogenesis after male rats had copulated for their first and second times. Copulatory stimuli, especially stimuli from ejaculation, significantly reduced the mRNA levels of drebrin A and spinophilin in the MPNc but not in the MPNlm. These results indicate that copulatory experiences, especially experience of ejaculation, reduce spine density in the MPNc of male rats, which may result, in part, from downregulation of genes encoding actin-binding proteins.


Actin-binding protein,Copulatory experience,Dendrite,Male rats,Sexual behavior,Spine,