BACKGROUND: beta-adrenergic ligands have been shown to influence sexual differentiation of the brain. In the present study we document that short postnatal treatment with beta-adrenergic agonists or antagonists may permanently reverse the morphological sex of the brain, as judged by the volume of sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area (SDN-POA). Female rats treated by beta(2)-adrenergic stimulating ligands exhibit an increased, male type SDN-POA volume while male rats treated by beta1-adrenergic antagonists show a decreased, female type of SDN-POA volume.
OBJECTIVES: To analyze the volume of SDN-POA of adult rats after postnatal administration of betaadrenergic ligands.
METHODS: From the second day of life, over 5 consecutive days, all the neonates were injected subcutaneously with the following drugs: isoproterenol, salbutamol, metoprolol alprenolol or saline. SDN-POA volumes were estimated planimetrically on serial brain slides.
RESULTS: In male rats the mean volume of SDN-POA was 9.97 +/- 1.66 x 10(-3) mm(3), in female rats the respective volume reached 4.02 +/- 1.26 x 10(-3) mm(3) only and was 2.5 times lower, the difference being highly statistically significant. Postnatal administration of isoproterenol remained without effect in male rats but diminished the SDN-POA volume in female rats, thus increasing the sexual dimorphism. The disappearance of sexual dimorphism was noted in rats treated postnatally with salbutamol. This effect was due to the increase in SDN-POA volumes in female rats, up to 9.81 +/- 2.64 x 10(-3) mm(3), the levels approaching the male type of POA differentiation. Postnatal alprenolol treatment influenced the sexual dimorphism of the brain by decreasing the SDN-POA volume reached by adult males. In fact, in rats treated postnatally with alprenolol, the volume of the nucleus reached only 4,44 +/- 1,61 x 10(-3) mm(3), being not statistically different from female nuclei. The effect of metoprolol pretreatment was similar to alprenolol. Male volumes of SDN-POA were restored both by isoproterenol and salbutamol in metoprolol pretreated rats and by isoproterenol only in alprenolol treated rats.
CONCLUSION: It appears that inhibition of beta(1)-adrenergic pathway is able to shut off the physiologic mechanisms of male differentiation of SDN-POA, and the subsequent beta(2)-adrenergic stimulation activates an alternative mechanism of masculinization. beta(2)-adrenergic signal is able to masculinize rat preoptic area in females as well. From the presented data it may be concluded that beta adrenoreceptors participate in sexual differentiation of preoptic area in rats and the modulation of their activity in postnatal period permanently influences the morphology of the sexually differentiated nucleus of the preoptic area.