Social contact elicits immediate-early gene expression in dopaminergic cells of the male prairie vole extended olfactory amygdala

Neuroscience. 2009 Sep 29;163(1):9-22. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.06.018. Epub 2009 Jun 10.


Male prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) are a valuable model in which to study the neurobiology of sociality because, unlike most mammals, they pair bond after mating and display paternal behaviors. Research on the regulation of these social behaviors has highlighted dopamine (DA) neurotransmission in both pair bonding and parenting. We recently described large numbers of dopaminergic cells in the male prairie vole principal nucleus of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (pBST) and posterodorsal medial amygdala (MeApd), but such cells were very few in number or absent in the non-monogamous species we examined, including meadow voles. This suggests that DA cells in these sites may be important for sociosexual behaviors in male prairie voles. To gain some insight into the function of these DAergic neurons in male prairie voles, we examined expression of the immediate-early genes (IEGs) Fos and Egr-1 in tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-immunoreactive (TH-ir) cells of the pBST and MeApd after males interacted or not with one of several social stimuli. We found that IEGs were constitutively expressed in some TH-ir neurons under any social condition, but that IEG expression in these cells decreased after a 3.5-h social isolation. Thirty-minute mating bouts (but not 6- or 24-h bouts) that included ejaculation elicited greater IEG expression in TH-ir cells than did non-ejaculatory mating, interactions with a familiar female sibling, or interactions with pups. Furthermore, Fos expression in TH-ir cells was positively correlated with the display of copulatory, but not parental, behaviors. These effects of mating were not found in other DA-rich sites of the forebrain (including the anteroventral periventricular preoptic area, periventricular anterior hypothalamus, zona incerta, and arcuate nucleus). Thus, activity in DAergic cells of the male prairie vole pBST and MeApd is influenced by their social environment, and may be particularly involved in mating and its consequences, including pair bonding.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / cytology
  • Amygdala / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Arvicolinae / anatomy & histology
  • Arvicolinae / genetics*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Copulation / physiology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Early Growth Response Protein 1 / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Genes, Immediate-Early / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Olfactory Pathways / cytology
  • Olfactory Pathways / metabolism*
  • Pair Bond
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Septal Nuclei / cytology
  • Septal Nuclei / metabolism
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Isolation / psychology
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism


  • Early Growth Response Protein 1
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Dopamine