Sex differences in estrogenic regulation of neuronal activity in neonatal cultures of ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus

Jin Zhou, Donald W. Pfaff, Gong Chen

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Estrogenic effects have been implicated in sexual differentiation of brain and behavior, in part by affecting neuronal activity in the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMN). We report here a remarkable sex difference in estrogenic regulation of neuronal activity in male vs. female neural networks. Spontaneous synaptic currents originating from a population of neurons were recorded in primary VMN cultures using the whole-cell patch-clamp technique. Treatment with 17β-estradiol (E2, 10 nM) for 24 h induced opposite effects in the two sexes: the frequency of spontaneous synaptic events decreased significantly in neurons derived from males but increased in those from females. Interestingly, the 24-hour E2 effect was partially reversed by an acute application (5 min) of a second dose of E2 (10 nM), suggesting an interaction between extended (24-hr) and acute (5-min) effects of E2 in VMN neurons. To understand the underlying mechanism of this sexually dimorphic action of E2, we analyzed the E2 effect on GABAergic neurotransmission by recording miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents. After 24-hour E2 treatment, both the amplitude and frequency of miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents increased in neurons derived from males but decreased in those from females. These results suggest that E2-induced changes in GABAergic inhibition could at least partially explain E2 effects on neuronal activity. We conclude that E2 may have sexually dimorphic effects on the synaptic output of VMN neurons by modulating GABAergic neurotransmission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14907-14912
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number41
Publication statusPublished - Oct 11 2005


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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