Neuroplasticity after Sexual Experience in the Nucleus Accumbens of Syrian hamsters

Abstract

Research over the past three decades has demonstrated that many neural changes occur in response to rewarding stimuli and behavior. However, most of this research has focused on the changes that occur following drug use and their role in addiction. Less research has investigated the neural changes in response to everyday rewarding behaviors such as eating, exercising, and sexual behavior, and even less has explored whether these changes differ in male and female brains. The goal of this study was to investigate the changes in brain circuitry that occur in Syrian hamsters after exposure to sexual experiences and to identify any possible sex differences involved. Specifically, levels of delta FosB, a transcription factor that is important for long-term neural plasticity following rewarding experiences, was measured in the Nucleus Accumbens (NAc) as a way to quantify these neural changes. This study also aimed at investigating whether the efficiency with which hamsters mate is improved with experience, as measured by the time the hamsters are actively having sex and the amount of sex-related behaviors they perform. It was expected that sexual experiences would lead to an up-regulation of delta FosB in the NAc, that this up-regulation would not differ between the sexes, and that mating efficiency would improve with experience. The results demonstrated that sexual experience led to higher delta FosB levels in the NAc than controls, and that there were no differences in delta FosB levels between males and females of the same group. This study also found that mating efficiency was not improved with experience. The results obtained in this study suggest that the normal rewarding behavior of sexual experience leads to neuroplastic changes in the NAc of Syrian hamsters and that male and female Syrian hamsters likely have similar neuroplastic changes following sexual experiences. This research has the potential to provide a better understanding of how drugs of abuse take advantage of reward pathways, and eventually lead to better treatments for addiction

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