Estrogen imprinting compromises male sexual behavior and affects the number of androgen-receptor-expressing hypothalamic neurons
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Neonatal exposure to high-dose 17 beta-estradiol (E2) affects the morphology and physiology of sex and accessory sex organs in the long term. In this study, we examined the effects of E2 imprinting on male sexual behavior, fertility, and the number of androgen receptor (AR)-expressing cells in the hypothalamus. E2-treated males showed copulatory behavior represented by mounts and/or intromissions, demonstrating the preservation of aspects of male behavior. They had slightly increased latency for first intromission and a reduced number of ejaculations, associated with a 50% reduction in the fertility index. AR expression in the hypothalamus was assessed by RT-PCR, western blotting, and immunohistochemistry. Treated rats had a significantly lower ventral prostate (VP) weight, demonstrating the efficacy of the treatment. The AR mRNA and protein content in the hypothalamus of E2-treated animals was reduced to the levels of females. AR-expressing cell counts in the ventromedial, anterior medial preoptic, paraventricular nuclei, and preoptic areas were different from control males, and similar to those of females. In conclusion, E2 imprinting resulted not only in ill-developed sexual organs, but also affected sexual behavior, resulting in a female-type hypothalamus, at least with respect to the abundance of AR mRNA and protein and the number of AR-expressing cells in important regions/tracts. Neonatal exposure to high-dose estradiol affects the number of AR+ hypothalamic neurons and male sexual behavior.