Testosterone depletion in adult male rats increases mossy fiber transmission, LTP, and sprouting in area CA3 of hippocampus

J Neurosci. 2013 Feb 6;33(6):2338-55. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3857-12.2013.


Androgens have dramatic effects on neuronal structure and function in hippocampus. However, androgen depletion does not always lead to hippocampal impairment. To address this apparent paradox, we evaluated the hippocampus of adult male rats after gonadectomy (Gdx) or sham surgery. Surprisingly, Gdx rats showed increased synaptic transmission and long-term potentiation of the mossy fiber (MF) pathway. Gdx rats also exhibited increased excitability and MF sprouting. We then addressed the possible underlying mechanisms and found that Gdx induced a long-lasting upregulation of MF BDNF immunoreactivity. Antagonism of Trk receptors, which bind neurotrophins, such as BDNF, reversed the increase in MF transmission, excitability, and long-term potentiation in Gdx rats, but there were no effects of Trk antagonism in sham controls. To determine which androgens were responsible, the effects of testosterone metabolites DHT and 5α-androstane-3α,17β-diol were examined. Exposure of slices to 50 nm DHT decreased the effects of Gdx on MF transmission, but 50 nm 5α-androstane-3α,17β-diol had no effect. Remarkably, there was no effect of DHT in control males. The data suggest that a Trk- and androgen receptor-sensitive form of MF transmission and synaptic plasticity emerges after Gdx. We suggest that androgens may normally be important in area CA3 to prevent hyperexcitability and aberrant axon outgrowth but limit MF synaptic transmission and some forms of plasticity. The results also suggest a potential explanation for the maintenance of hippocampal-dependent cognitive function after androgen depletion: a reduction in androgens may lead to compensatory upregulation of MF transmission and plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • CA3 Region, Hippocampal / physiology*
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mossy Fibers, Hippocampal / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Orchiectomy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Testosterone / deficiency*
  • Testosterone / metabolism


  • Testosterone