The role of ventral bundle noradrenergic neurones in sensory components of sexual behaviour and coitus-induced pseudopregnancy

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Interaction of the female rat with the male in standardized laboratory conditions is characterized by two categories of behaviour. The first, known as proceptive behaviour, consists of a series of rapid movements by which she approaches and leaves the male, hopping and darting and wiggling her ears1. This behaviour, which is a response to visual, olfactory, and probably auditory cues from the male, serves to attract his sexual interest. As soon as the male mounts her, this behaviour is abruptly terminated and is replaced by a second (receptive) pattern1. The female becomes completely immobile and dorsiflexes her vertebral column to display a lordotic posture, which exposes her vagina and facilitates intromission by the male; this pattern results from tactile stimulation received by the female from the male as he mounts her2,3. Both these behaviours are under endocrine control since the female rat will only show them if she is exposed to the ovarian hormones oestradiol and progesterone4. However, proceptivity and receptivity clearly differ with regard to the neural mechanisms responsible for their activation, since different groups of afferent stimuli are required to set them in motion. We now show that a specific part of the ascending systems of noradrenergic neurones in the brain, that is carried in the ventral noradrenergic bundle5, is critically involved in the mechanisms by which tactile stimuli elicit receptive, but not proceptive, behaviour in the female rat. The same system is also involved in the process by which genital stimuli activate another neuroendocrine phenomenon, the induction of pseudopregnancy.

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Hansen, S., Stanfield, E. & Everitt, B. The role of ventral bundle noradrenergic neurones in sensory components of sexual behaviour and coitus-induced pseudopregnancy. Nature 286, 152–154 (1980) doi:10.1038/286152a0

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