Sexual disorders, such as erectile dysfunction and female sexual arousal disorder, are common in human populations and are strongly associated with increased anxiety and depression. Although substantial progress has been made in understanding and treating peripheral and organic causes of these disorders, much less is known about pathological changes in sexual arousal or """"""""libido."""""""" To generate attraction and preference for mates, human and non-human animals must integrate signals about their reproductive state (gonadal steroid hormones) with perception of social cues (often odors or pheromones). This proposal will identify and characterize the neural substrates underlying steroidal and chemosensory interaction on attraction and preference for female odors in male golden hamsters, a model organism whose sexual behavior is critically dependent on both social odors and hormones. The experiments will test the hypothesis that steroid-sensitive elements of the medial amygdala (MA) and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) mediate the modulatory and permissive effects of gonadal steroids on attraction and preference, whereas chemosensory regions of MA and BNST mediate the evaluative processes underlying preference for female odors. Using behavioral techniques, excitotoxic lesions and electrophysiological recordings in awake, behaving animals, this hypothesis will be tested by determining whether (a) lesioning steroid-sensitive or chemosensory MA and BNST regions impairs sexual attraction and preference, (b) the firing responses of individual neurons and populations of neurons within chemosensory and steroid-sensitive regions of MA and BNST differ in their response specificity to female odors and (c) disconnecting these chemosensory and steroid-sensitive region impairs preference and attraction and changes neural activity within these structures. This data will provide novel insights into how sexual attraction and preference is generated by the nervous system and how sensory and internal state cues interact to regulate motivated behavior.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
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Neuroendocrinology, Neuroimmunology, and Behavior Study Section (NNB)
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Simmons, Janine M
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Georgia State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Petrulis, Aras (2013) Chemosignals and hormones in the neural control of mammalian sexual behavior. Front Neuroendocrinol 34:255-67
Martinez, Luis A; Levy, Marisa J; Petrulis, Aras (2013) Endogenous oxytocin is necessary for preferential Fos expression to male odors in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in female Syrian hamsters. Horm Behav 64:653-64
Petrulis, Aras (2013) Chemosignals, hormones and mammalian reproduction. Horm Behav 63:723-41
Martinez, Luis A; Petrulis, Aras (2013) The medial preoptic area is necessary for sexual odor preference, but not sexual solicitation, in female Syrian hamsters. Horm Behav 63:606-14
Been, Laura E; Bauman, Jay M; Petrulis, Aras et al. (2012) X-ray kinematics analysis of vaginal scent marking in female Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Physiol Behav 105:1021-7
Been, Laura E; Petrulis, Aras (2012) Dissociated functional pathways for appetitive and consummatory reproductive behaviors in male Syrian hamsters. Horm Behav 61:204-11
Martinez, Luis A; Petrulis, Aras (2011) The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis is critical for sexual solicitation, but not for opposite-sex odor preference, in female Syrian hamsters. Horm Behav 60:651-9
Been, Laura E; Petrulis, Aras (2011) Chemosensory and hormone information are relayed directly between the medial amygdala, posterior bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and medial preoptic area in male Syrian hamsters. Horm Behav 59:536-48
Been, Laura E; Petrulis, Aras (2010) Lesions of the posterior bed nucleus of the stria terminalis eliminate opposite-sex odor preference and delay copulation in male Syrian hamsters: role of odor volatility and sexual experience. Eur J Neurosci 32:483-93
Maras, P M; Petrulis, A (2010) Lesions that functionally disconnect the anterior and posterodorsal sub-regions of the medial amygdala eliminate opposite-sex odor preference in male Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Neuroscience 165:1052-62

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