Quantitative analysis of pre- and postsynaptic sex differences in the nucleus accumbens

J Comp Neurol. 2010 Apr 15;518(8):1330-48. doi: 10.1002/cne.22279.


The nucleus accumbens (NAc) plays a central role in motivation and reward. While there is ample evidence for sex differences in addiction-related behaviors, little is known about the neuroanatomical substrates that underlie these sexual dimorphisms. We investigated sex differences in synaptic connectivity of the NAc by evaluating pre- and postsynaptic measures in gonadally intact male and proestrous female rats. We used DiI labeling and confocal microscopy to measure dendritic spine density, spine head size, dendritic length, and branching of medium spiny neurons (MSNs) in the NAc, and quantitative immunofluorescence to measure glutamatergic innervation using pre- (vesicular glutamate transporter 1 and 2) and postsynaptic (postsynaptic density 95) markers, as well as dopaminergic innervation of the NAc. We also utilized electron microscopy to complement the above measures. Clear but subtle sex differences were identified, namely, in distal dendritic spine density and the proportion of large spines on MSNs, both of which are greater in females. Sex differences in spine density and spine head size are evident in both the core and shell subregions, but are stronger in the core. This study is the first demonstration of neuroanatomical sex differences in the NAc and provides evidence that structural differences in synaptic connectivity and glutamatergic input may contribute to behavioral sex differences in reward and addiction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dendrites / metabolism
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism
  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Nucleus Accumbens / cytology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / ultrastructure
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Proestrus / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2 / metabolism


  • Slc17a6 protein, rat
  • Slc17a7 protein, rat
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 1
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase