DREADD-induced silencing of the medial amygdala reduces the preference for male pheromones and the expression of lordosis in estrous female mice

Eur J Neurosci. 2017 Aug;46(4):2035-2046. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13636. Epub 2017 Aug 1.


Sexually naïve estrous female mice seek out male urinary pheromones; however, they initially display little receptive (lordosis) behavior in response to male mounts. Vomeronasal-accessory olfactory bulb inputs to the medial amygdala (Me) regulate courtship in female rodents. We used a reversible inhibitory chemogenetic technique (Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs; DREADDs) to assess the contribution of Me signaling to females' preference for male pheromones and improvement in receptivity normally seen with repeated testing. Sexually naïve females received bilateral Me injections of an adeno-associated virus carrying an inhibitory DREADD. Females were later ovariectomized, treated with ovarian hormones, and given behavioral tests following intraperitoneal injections of saline or clozapine-N-oxide (CNO; which hyperpolarizes infected Me neurons). CNO attenuated females' preference to investigate male vs. female urinary odors. Repeated CNO treatment also slowed the increase in lordosis otherwise seen in females given saline. However, when saline was given to females previously treated with CNO, their lordosis quotients were as high as other females repeatedly given saline. No disruptive behavioral effects of CNO were seen in estrous females lacking DREADD infections of the Me. Finally, CNO attenuated the ability of male pheromones to stimulate Fos expression in the Me of DREADD-infected mice but not in non-infected females. Our results affirm the importance of Me signaling in females' chemosensory preferences and in the acute expression of lordosis. However, they provide no indication that Me signaling is required for the increase in receptivity normally seen after repeated hormone priming and testing with a male.

Keywords: Fos expression; chemogenetics; chemosensation; sexual behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / drug effects
  • Amygdala / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Agents / administration & dosage
  • Dependovirus* / genetics
  • Designer Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Gene Silencing / drug effects
  • Gene Silencing / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Pheromones / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Pheromones / biosynthesis*
  • Pheromones / genetics
  • Posture / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*


  • Central Nervous System Agents
  • Designer Drugs
  • Pheromones