Prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) typically stop breeding during winter. Male prairie voles respond to winter day lengths with gonadal regression, whereas female voles are relatively unresponsive to photoperiod. Unlike commonly studied laboratory rodents, female prairie voles do not exhibit spontaneous oestrous cycles. Instead, females are induced into oestrus by chemosensory cues from conspecific male urine. The present study investigated the interaction among day length, chemosensory cues and the initial brain responses during oestrus induction in female voles. A single drop of male conspecific urine, saline or skimmed milk was applied to the nares of female prairie voles housed for 9 weeks in either long (LD 16: 8 h) or short (LD 8: 16 h) days. Animals were killed 0.5, 1, 2 or 24 h after chemosensory treatment and their brains were processed for Fos immunocytochemistry. Body mass and ovarian fat pad mass were higher, but uterine and ovarian mass were lower, in short-day compared to long-day females. Regardless of photoperiod, Fos- immunoreactivity increased in the granule layer of the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB), the supraoptic nucleus and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) (anterior medial) in females treated with male urine compared to the two control groups. Fos staining intensified in the AOB, medial and posterocortical medial amygdala and BNST (posterior ventral), 1 h and 2 h after urine treatment. In the medial preoptic area, anterior and lateral hypothalamus, and ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus, Fos-immunoreactivity was elevated in females 2 h after receiving urine. Overall, long-day females displayed higher Fos expression in response to urine than females maintained in short days. These results identify a putative neural circuitry of oestrus induction in this species, and provide an approximate time line of activation in the brain circuit responsible for oestrus induction in prairie voles.
- Early immediate genes
- Vomeronasal organ
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience