Post-weaning social isolation of male rats reduces the volume of the medial amygdala and leads to deficits in adult sexual behavior

Behav Brain Res. 2000 Dec 20;117(1-2):107-13. doi: 10.1016/s0166-4328(00)00301-6.


At 21 days of age, gonadally intact male Long Evans rats were weaned and placed into standard laboratory conditions (three per cage) or housed singly. They were tested for noncontact erections and sexual performance at 90 and 220 days of age. Rats raised in isolation displayed significantly fewer noncontact erections in response to sensory cues from an estrous female and fewer intromissions when allowed to mate with a female than did males raised in groups. The volume of the posterodorsal component of the medial amygdala (MePD) and the size of neurons within the MePD were significantly smaller in the isolated males than in socially housed males. Similarly, neurons in the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area (SDN-POA) were smaller in isolate animals than in controls. As both MePD volume and SDN-POA soma size are responsive to sex steroids, these differences could result if the isolates experienced lower testosterone levels. Finally, the volume of the overall medial amygdala (MeA) correlated significantly with the number of noncontact erections, a relationship that was not explained by housing condition. These findings highlight the role of social experience as a factor in the sexual differentiation of the brain and suggest a positive relationship between the volume of a brain structure and the display of sexual behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Amygdala / growth & development
  • Amygdala / metabolism
  • Amygdala / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Estrus
  • Female
  • Male
  • Penile Erection
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*
  • Social Isolation*
  • Testosterone / metabolism*


  • Testosterone