The organizational effects of pubertal testosterone on sexual proficiency in adult male Syrian hamsters

Physiol Behav. 2016 Oct 15;165:273-7. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.08.008. Epub 2016 Aug 8.


Social proficiency requires making appropriate behavioral adaptations as a result of social experience. For example, male rodents become sexually proficient with experience as demonstrated by a reduction in ectopic (misdirected) mounts, mount-to-intromission ratio, and latency to ejaculation. We previously found that over a series of timed tests with a receptive female, male hamsters deprived of testosterone specifically during puberty (NoT@P) have overall lower levels of sexual behavior and continue to display high levels of ectopic mounts, compared with males that experienced endogenous testosterone during puberty (T@P). These results suggested that pubertal testosterone programs sexual proficiency in adulthood, but because NoT@P males engaged in less sexual behavior than T@P males in these tests, the amount of sexual experience may have been insufficient to improve sexual proficiency. To more rigorously test the hypothesis that pubertal testosterone is necessary for social proficiency in adulthood, the present study compared the behavior of NoT@P and T@P males in a series of 4 trials with a 48-h interval between each trial. Sexual experience was equated by limiting each trial to 5 intromissions. Sexually-naïve males were either gonadectomized prepubertally (NoT@P) or in adulthood (T@P) and received subcutaneous testosterone capsules four weeks later. Two weeks after testosterone replacement, these groups and a group of adult gonad-intact controls began sexual behavior testing. We found that NoT@P males had more ectopic mounts/min across all four tests compared to gonad-intact and T@P males. Moreover, both gonad-intact and T@P males, but not NoT@P males, showed an increase in the number of mounts and intromissions/min between trials 1 and 3. Unexpectedly, both gonad-intact and T@P, but not NoT@P, males showed a decrease in sexual behaviors during trial 4. Thus, T@P males display multiple behavioral adaptations to sexual experience that are not observed in NoT@P males: a reduction in ectopic mounts after repeated encounters with a receptive female and an inverted U-shape pattern in mounts and intromissions when these encounters do not lead to ejaculations. These results support the hypothesis that pubertal testosterone organizes neural circuits underlying behavioral flexibility and adaptability to promote sexual proficiency in adulthood.

Keywords: Ectopic mounting; Puberty; Sexual experience; Sexual proficiency; Testosterone.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Androgens / blood
  • Androgens / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cricetinae
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mesocricetus
  • Orchiectomy
  • Ovariectomy
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Sexual Maturation / drug effects*
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Testosterone / pharmacology*


  • Androgens
  • Testosterone