Social modulation of adult brain cell proliferation: influence of sex and gonadal hormones
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Environmental factors are known to have far reaching effects on nervous system function, and in the adult brain, it is clear that a wide range of environmental stimuli modulate cell proliferation and survival (e.g., neurogenesis). This project investigated whether social stimulation and concomitant changes in gonadal hormones can influence the proliferation of new cells in the adult brain. The adult green treefrog (Hyla cinerea)was used as the model system; studying the courtship behavior of the highly social treefrog affords a direct, quantifiable way to measure the effects of acoustic social cues and hormonal intervention on adult brain cell proliferation. Using immunohistochemistry techiques, endocrinological manipulations, and socially-relevant acoustic stimulus presentations, I report that social cues modulate cell proliferation in the brains of adult male and female H. cinerea. I first mapped the distribution of proliferative areas in the adult treefrog brain using 5-bromo-2′- deoxyuridine (BrdU) labeling. I then exposed naturally-cycling male and female treefrogs to random tones or a recording of a natural H. cinerea chorus for ten days during the breeding season. I found that male and female treefrogs that heard their conspecific chorus exhibited increased brain cell proliferation compared to animals that heard random tones. Moreover, this modulation was region-specific and occurred in those regions which reflected their presumed involvement in reproductive physiology and behavior: the preoptic area (POA) and the infundibular hypothalamus (IF). To determine the involvement of gonadal hormones in cell proliferation with and without social stimulation, I gonadectomized and implanted male and female H. cinerea with blank or steroid-filled implants. After exposing the treefrogs to the same acoustic conditions as above, I discovered that social modulation of adult cell proliferation can occur without the influence of gonadal hormones (i.e., androgens in the male and estrogen in the female). Furthermore, the results revealed that neither hormone was neurotrophic and in fact, chronically-elevated estrogen levels decreased cell proliferation in the female POA and IF. Together, these results indicate that the reception of acoustic social cues increases cell proliferation in brain regions mediating sexual behavior and endocrine regulation; furthermore, this modulation occurs in a sexually-differentiated fashion without gonadal hormone influence.