Sexual differentiation of mesencephalic neurons in vitro: effects of sex and gonadal hormones

Int J Dev Neurosci. 1989;7(6):603-11. doi: 10.1016/0736-5748(89)90019-1.


In order to study the influence of gender on the development of transmitter uptake by dopaminergic neurons, dissociated cell cultures were raised separately from male and female midbrains of gestational day 14 rats. It was ascertained by use of specific inhibitors and by autoradiography that the uptake of [3H]dopamine was restricted to neurons immunoreactive for tyrosine hydroxylase and that these neurons have dopaminergic properties. The uptake capacity was higher in male than in female dopaminergic neurons by a factor of 1.5. This sexual dimorphism in dopamine uptake was present in cultures of tissue removed before the perinatal rise of testosterone occurs in males, and was present even in the absence of hormonal additives to the culture medium. It therefore appears to be independent of the presence of gonadal steroids. It occurred likewise in cultures raised with serum-supplemented and serum-free medium, which may indicate that glia are not decisive in generating these differences. In addition, sexual differences were found regarding hormone responsiveness. Whereas testosterone and dihydrotestosterone were ineffective, estradiol was seen to promote dopamine uptake in female but not in male neurons. The results would suggest that mesostriatal and/or mesolimbic dopaminergic systems assume an early role in the development of some sexual dimorphisms of the brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dopamine / pharmacokinetics
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Estradiol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / cytology
  • Mesencephalon / drug effects
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Testosterone / pharmacology*
  • Testosterone / physiology


  • Testosterone
  • Estradiol
  • Dopamine