Testosterone and estrogen are essential for male behaviors in vertebrates. How these two signaling pathways interact to control masculinization of the brain and behavior remains to be established. Circulating testosterone activates the androgen receptor (AR) and also serves as the source of estrogen in the brain. We have used a genetic strategy to delete AR specifically in the mouse nervous system. This approach permits us to determine the function of AR in sexually dimorphic behaviors in males while maintaining circulating testosterone levels within the normal range. We find that AR mutant males exhibit masculine sexual and territorial displays, but they have striking deficits in specific components of these behaviors. Taken together with the surprisingly limited expression of AR in the developing brain, our findings indicate that testosterone acts as a precursor to estrogen to masculinize the brain and behavior, and signals via AR to control the levels of male behavioral displays.
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