Pubertal exposure to anabolic androgenic steroids increases spine densities on neurons in the limbic system of male rats

Neuroscience. 2007 Dec 12;150(3):609-15. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2007.09.038. Epub 2007 Sep 21.


Human studies show that the number of teenagers abusing anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) is increasing. During adolescence, brain development is altered by androgen exposure, which suggests that AAS may potentially alter central nervous system (CNS) development. The goal of the present study was to determine whether pubertal AAS exposure increased dendritic spine densities on neurons within the medial amygdala and the dorsal hippocampus. Pubertal gonadally intact male rats received the AAS testosterone propionate (5 mg/kg) or vehicle for 5 days/week for 4 weeks. To determine the long-term implications of pubertal AAS use, another set of males received the same AAS treatment and was then withdrawn from AAS exposure for 4 weeks. Results showed that pubertal AAS exposure significantly increased spine densities on neurons in the anterior medial amygdala, posterodorsal medial amygdala, and the cornu ammonis region 1 (CA1) of the hippocampus compared with gonadally intact control males. Spine densities returned to control levels within the anterior medial amygdala and the posterodorsal medial amygdala 4 weeks after withdrawal. However, spine densities remained significantly elevated after AAS withdrawal in the CA1 region of the hippocampus, suggesting that pubertal AAS exposure may have a long-lasting impact on CA1 hippocampal neuroanatomy. Since pubertal AAS exposure increased spine densities and most excitatory synapses in the CNS occur on dendritic spines, AAS may increase neuronal excitation. It is proposed that this increase in excitation may underlie the behavioral responses seen in pubertal AAS-treated male rats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / cytology
  • Amygdala / drug effects*
  • Amygdala / growth & development
  • Anabolic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Dendritic Spines / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / drug effects*
  • Hippocampus / growth & development
  • Male
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Sexual Maturation / drug effects*
  • Testosterone Propionate / pharmacology*


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Testosterone Propionate