Mating-activated brainstem catecholaminergic neurons in the female rat.Brain Res. 2001 Mar 16; 894(2):159-66.BR
Central catecholaminergic systems play an important role in the control of reproductive activities including sexual behavior, luteinizing hormone (LH) and prolactin secretion. It has been reported that catecholaminergic neurons in the locus coeruleus (A6) are activated by mating in rabbits and ferrets, animals known as reflex ovulators. This study used Fos as a marker of neuronal activity to examine whether brainstem catecholaminergic neurons are activated by mating in the spontaneous ovulator, the female rat. Proestrous rats receiving intromissions (mated group) from males or mounts-without-intromission (mounted group) were sacrificed along with rats taken directly from their home cage (control group) 90 min after the beginning of mating or mounting. Double-label immunocytochemistry was used to examine the expression of c-Fos in catecholaminergic neurons labeled by tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) antibody, or adrenergic neurons labeled by phenylethanolamine-N-methyl transferase (PNMT) antibody. Double label immunofluorescent immunohistochemistry was used to determine the number of neurons containing the estrogen receptor (ERalpha) that were activated by mating in these brain areas. The results showed that mating-with-intromissions induced a significant increase in the percentage of TH/Fos colabeled neurons in both A1 and A2 cells compared to mounting-without-intromission or control. In both these areas, over 50% ERalpha-ir neurons were activated after mating while mounting-without-intromission did not affect the percentage of colabeled Fos/ERalpha neurons. In A6 region, neither the expression of Fos nor the percentage of TH/Fos colabeled cells was influenced by either mating or mounting compared to controls. The percentage of PNMT-containing neurons colabeled with Fos was not different in C1 and C2 among the three experimental groups. The results indicate that catecholaminergic neurons were activated by mating in A1 and A2 but not in adjoining adrenergic C1 and C2 cells. In contrast to the findings that catecholaminergic neurons in A6 are activated by mating in induced ovulators, mating did not affect neuronal activity in A6 neurons in the female rat. In A1 and A2 areas, a high percentage of neurons containing ERalpha were activated by mating suggesting both tactile and hormonal information may converge on these populations of neurons. The activated catecholaminergic neurons in A1 and A2 may be an important pathway by which sensory information generated during sexual interaction modulates both behavior and pituitary function.