Prenatal programming of sexual partner preference: the ram model.

TitlePrenatal programming of sexual partner preference: the ram model.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsRoselli, CE, Stormshak, F
JournalJ Neuroendocrinol
Date Published2009 Mar
KeywordsAnimals, Aromatase, Estrogens, Female, Homosexuality, Male, Hypothalamus, Male, Mating Preference, Animal, Neurons, Organ Size, Sex Characteristics, Sheep, Steroids, Testosterone

In our laboratory, the domestic ram is used as an experimental model to study the early programming of neural mechanisms underlying same-sex partner preference. This interest developed from the observation that approximately 8% of domestic rams are sexually attracted to other rams (male-oriented) in contrast to the majority of rams that are attracted to oestrous ewes (female-oriented). One prominent feature of sexual differentiation in many species is the presence of a sexually dimorphic nucleus (SDN) in the preoptic/anterior hypothalamus that is larger in males than in females. Lesion studies in rats and ferrets implicate the SDN in the expression of sexual preferences. We discovered an ovine SDN (oSDN) in the preoptic/anterior hypothalamus that is smaller in male- than in female-oriented rams and similar in size to the oSDN of ewes. Neurones of the oSDN show abundant aromatase expression that is also reduced in male-oriented compared to female-oriented rams. This observation suggests that sexual partner preferences are neurologically hard-wired and could be influenced by hormones. Aromatase-containing neurones constitute a nascent oSDN as early as day 60 of gestation, which becomes sexually dimorphic by day 135 of gestation when it is two-fold larger in males than in females. Exposure of fetal female lambs to exogenous testosterone from days 30-90 of gestation resulted in a masculinised oSDN. These data demonstrate that the oSDN develops prenatally and may influence adult sexual preferences. Surprisingly, inhibition of aromatase activity in the brain of ram foetuses during the critical period did not interfere with defeminisation of adult sexual partner preference or oSDN volume. These results fail to support an essential role for neural aromatase in the sexual differentiation of sheep brain and behaviour. Thus, we propose that oSDN morphology and male-typical partner preferences may instead be programmed through an androgen receptor mechanism not involving aromatisation.

Alternate JournalJ. Neuroendocrinol.
PubMed ID19207819
PubMed Central IDPMC2668810
Grant ListR01 RR014270 / RR / NCRR NIH HHS / United States
R01 RR014270-09 / RR / NCRR NIH HHS / United States
R01 RR 14270 / RR / NCRR NIH HHS / United States