Male-biased production of arginine vasotocin/vasopressin (VT/VP) in the medial bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTm) represents one of the largest and most phylogenetically widespread sexual dimorphisms in the vertebrate brain. Although this sex difference was identified 30 years ago, the function of the dimorphism has yet to be determined. Because 1) rapid transcriptional activation of BSTm VT/VP neurons is observed selectively in response to affiliation-related stimuli, 2) BSTm VT/VP content and release correlates negatively with aggression, and 3) BSTm VT/VP production is often limited to periods of reproduction, we hypothesized that the sexual dimorphism serves to promote male-specific reproductive behaviors and offset male aggression in the context of reproductive affiliation. We now show that antisense knockdown of BSTm VT production in colony-housed finches strongly increases aggression in a male-specific manner and concomitantly reduces courtship. Thus, the widespread dimorphism may serve to focus males on affiliation in appropriate reproductive contexts (e.g., when courting) while concomitantly offsetting males' tendency for greater aggression relative to females.
Keywords: Aggression; Anxiety; Bed nucleus of the stria terminalis; Lateral septum; Sexual dimorphism; Sociality; Vasopressin; Vasotocin.
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