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      Estrous cycle-induced sex differences in medium spiny neuron excitatory synaptic transmission and intrinsic excitability in adult rat nucleus accumbens core

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          Abstract

          <p class="first" id="d4899037e258">Naturally occurring hormone cycles in adult female humans and rodents create a dynamic neuroendocrine environment. These cycles include the menstrual cycle in humans and its counterpart in rodents, the estrous cycle. These hormone fluctuations induce sex differences in the phenotypes of many behaviors, including those related to motivation, and associated disorders such as depression and addiction. This suggests that the neural substrate instrumental for these behaviors, including the nucleus accumbens core (AcbC), likewise differs between estrous cycle phases. It is unknown whether the electrophysiological properties of AcbC output neurons, medium spiny neurons (MSNs), change between estrous cycle phases. This is a critical knowledge gap given that MSN electrophysiological properties are instrumental for determining AcbC output to efferent targets. Here we test whether the intrinsic electrophysiological properties of adult rat AcbC MSNs differ across female estrous cycle phases and from males. We recorded MSNs with whole cell patch-clamp technique in two experiments, the first using gonad-intact adult males and females in differing phases of the estrous cycle and the second using gonadectomized males and females in which the estrous cycle was eliminated. MSN intrinsic electrophysiological and excitatory synaptic input properties robustly changed between female estrous cycle phases and males. Sex differences in MSN electrophysiology disappeared when the estrous cycle was eliminated. These novel findings indicate that AcbC MSN electrophysiological properties change across the estrous cycle, providing a new framework for understanding how biological sex and hormone cyclicity regulate motivated behaviors and other AcbC functions and disorders. </p><p id="d4899037e260"> <b>NEW &amp; NOTEWORTHY</b> This research is the first demonstration that medium spiny neuron electrophysiological properties change across adult female hormone cycle phases in any striatal region. This influence of estrous cycle engenders sex differences in electrophysiological properties that are eliminated by gonadectomy. Broadly, these findings indicate that adult female hormone cycles are an important factor for neurophysiology. </p>

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          Most cited references 78

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          Sex differences in anxiety and depression clinical perspectives.

          Sex differences are prominent in mood and anxiety disorders and may provide a window into mechanisms of onset and maintenance of affective disturbances in both men and women. With the plethora of sex differences in brain structure, function, and stress responsivity, as well as differences in exposure to reproductive hormones, social expectations and experiences, the challenge is to understand which sex differences are relevant to affective illness. This review will focus on clinical aspects of sex differences in affective disorders including the emergence of sex differences across developmental stages and the impact of reproductive events. Biological, cultural, and experiential factors that may underlie sex differences in the phenomenology of mood and anxiety disorders are discussed.
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            Estradiol and the developing brain.

            Estradiol is the most potent and ubiquitous member of a class of steroid hormones called estrogens. Fetuses and newborns are exposed to estradiol derived from their mother, their own gonads, and synthesized locally in their brains. Receptors for estradiol are nuclear transcription factors that regulate gene expression but also have actions at the membrane, including activation of signal transduction pathways. The developing brain expresses high levels of receptors for estradiol. The actions of estradiol on developing brain are generally permanent and range from establishment of sex differences to pervasive trophic and neuroprotective effects. Cellular end points mediated by estradiol include the following: 1) apoptosis, with estradiol preventing it in some regions but promoting it in others; 2) synaptogenesis, again estradiol promotes in some regions and inhibits in others; and 3) morphometry of neurons and astrocytes. Estradiol also impacts cellular physiology by modulating calcium handling, immediate-early-gene expression, and kinase activity. The specific mechanisms of estradiol action permanently impacting the brain are regionally specific and often involve neuronal/glial cross-talk. The introduction of endocrine disrupting compounds into the environment that mimic or alter the actions of estradiol has generated considerable concern, and the developing brain is a particularly sensitive target. Prostaglandins, glutamate, GABA, granulin, and focal adhesion kinase are among the signaling molecules co-opted by estradiol to differentiate male from female brains, but much remains to be learned. Only by understanding completely the mechanisms and impact of estradiol action on the developing brain can we also understand when these processes go awry.
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              Gender differences in dopaminergic function in striatum and nucleus accumbens.

               Jill Becker (1999)
              In female rats the gonadal hormones estrogen and progesterone modulate dopamine (DA) activity in the striatum and nucleus accumbens. For example, there is estrous cycle-dependent variation in basal extracellular concentration of striatal DA, in amphetamine (AMPH)-stimulated DA release, and in striatal DA-mediated behaviors. Ovariectomy attenuates basal extracellular DA, AMPH-induced striatal DA release, and behaviors mediated by the striatal DA system. Estrogen rapidly and directly acts on the striatum and accumbens, via a G-protein-coupled external membrane receptor, to enhance DA release and DA-mediated behaviors. In male rats, estrogen does not affect striatal DA release, and removal of testicular hormones is without effect. These effects of estrogen also result in gender differences in sensitization to psychomotor stimulants. The effects of the gonadal hormones on the striatum and ascending DA systems projecting to the striatum and nucleus accumbens are hypothesized to occur as follows: estrogen induces a rapid change in neuronal excitability by acting on membrane receptors located in intrinsic striatal GABAergic neurons and on DA terminals. The effect of these two actions results in enhanced stimulated DA release through modulation of terminal excitability. These effects of gonadal hormones are postulated to have important implications for gender differences in susceptibility to addiction to the psychomotor stimulants. It is suggested that hormonal modulation of the striatum may have evolved to facilitate reproductive success in female rats by enhancing pacing behavior.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Journal of Neurophysiology
                Journal of Neurophysiology
                American Physiological Society
                0022-3077
                1522-1598
                September 2018
                September 2018
                : 120
                : 3
                : 1356-1373
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Graduate Program in Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
                [2 ]W. M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
                [3 ]Department of Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
                [4 ]Center for Human Health and the Environment, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
                [5 ]Comparative Medicine Institute, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
                Article
                10.1152/jn.00263.2018
                6171053
                29947588
                © 2018
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