Recent evidence indicates that testosterone can modulate learning in males through an interaction with the cholinergic system. However, the mechanism for this interaction between testosterone and the cholinergic system on learning remains uncharacterized and may involve several of testosterone's active metabolites. In the present study, two of the active metabolites of testosterone, 5alpha-dihydrotestosterone and estradiol, were administered in combination with the muscarinic receptor antagonist scopolamine (0.1-1 mg/kg, i.p.) to adult gonadectomized male rats that were trained to respond under a multiple schedule of repeated acquisition and performance of response sequences. In the acquisition component, subjects acquired a different three-response sequence each session, whereas in the performance component they responded on the same three-response sequence each session. When scopolamine was administered, it produced greater rate-decreasing and error-increasing effects in gonadally intact subjects than in gonadectomized subjects, even though gonadectomy had little or no effect on these measures under control conditions. In gonadectomized rats receiving 5alpha-dihydrotestosterone replacement, the disruptions produced by scopolamine were also smaller than those produced in gonadally intact subjects. In contrast, gonadectomized rats receiving estradiol replacement were as sensitive, or more sensitive, to scopolamine-induced disruptions of response rate and accuracy than those under the gonadally intact condition. These results suggest that testosterone's interactive effects with the cholinergic system on learning in gonadectomized male rats may not be mediated directly via androgen receptors, but rather by estrogen receptors following the aromatization of testosterone to estradiol.
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