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Postnatal masculinization alters the HPA axis phenotype in the adult female rat

Blackwell Science Inc
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  • Integrative Physiology
  • Medicine
  • Psychology


The ability of postnatal testosterone propionate (TP) to masculinize both behaviour and gonadal cyclicity in the female rat is well documented. We have investigated whether postnatal androgen also has an organizational effect on another sexually dimorphic neuroendocrine system – the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Female rats were exposed to a single injection of testosterone propionate (TP) or oil within 24 h of birth. As adults, rats were either ovariectomized and given 17β-oestradiol replacement (OVXE2) or sham ovariectomized with cholesterol implants (SHOVX). An automated sampling system collected blood from unanaesthetized adult female rats every 10 min over a 24-h period, during a mild psychological stress (noise) and following an immunological lipopolysaccharide stress (LPS). Neonatal TP-treated SHOVX rats had a significant reduction in the number, height, frequency and amplitude of corticosterone pulses over the basal 24-h period, compared to both the neonatal oil-treated and TP-treated OVXE2 animals. The corticosterone response to both noise and LPS was also significantly decreased for the TP-treated SHOVX females. Three hours post-LPS administration, TP females had significantly lower values of paraventricular nucleus (PVN) corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH), arginine vasopressin (AVP) and anterior pituitary proopiomelanocortin (POMC) mRNAs and greater PVN glucocorticoid receptor (GR) mRNA expression compared to the oil-treated controls. E2 replacement in adult TP rats normalized all the mRNA levels, except for PVN GR mRNA which did fall towards the levels of the oil-control animals. A single injection of TP within 24 h of birth disrupts the development of the characteristic female pattern of corticosterone secretion and the normal female HPA response to stress, resulting in a pattern similar to that seen in males. These effects can be reversed by E2 treatment in the adult TP female rat.

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