Oxytocin (OT) neurotransmission plays a role in the facilitation of steroid-dependent sexual receptivity in the rat. One way in which the ovarian steroid 17Î2-estradiol (E2) has been shown to modulate OT transmission is by increasing OT receptor binding in certain brain areas involved in the regulation of female sexual behavior such as the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus (VMN). This study was undertaken to describe the distribution of OT receptors within the VMN that are regulated by physiological levels of E2. With quantitative autoradiographic methods, we measured [3H]OT binding in ovariectomized female rats implanted with Silastic capsules containing cholesterol, 5% E2 or 100% E2. In addition, plasma E2 levels, pituitary progestin receptor binding, and uterine weights were measured in animals from each treatment group. Results of this study showed that physiological levels of E2 increased [3H]0T binding in caudal regions of the ventrolateral VMN and stimulated maximal uterine growth and pituitary progestin receptor binding. However, in more rostral VMN sections, E2 induced a dose-dependent increase in [3H]OT binding. These data suggest that ovarian steroids sensitize the brain to OT by increasing OT receptor binding in certain brain areas involved in the regulation of sexual receptivity.
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