Female-biased sexual dimorphism of corticotropin-releasing factor neurons in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis

Biol Sex Differ. 2019 Jan 28;10(1):6. doi: 10.1186/s13293-019-0221-2.


Background: The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) contains the highest density of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF)-producing neurons in the brain. CRF-immunoreactive neurons show a female-biased sexual dimorphism in the dorsolateral BNST in the rat. Since CRF neurons cannot be immunostained clearly with available CRF antibodies in the mouse, we used a mouse line, in which modified yellow fluorescent protein (Venus) was inserted to the CRF gene, and the Neo cassette was removed, to examine the morphological characteristics of CRF neurons in the dorsolateral BNST. Developmental changes of CRF neurons were examined from postnatal stages to adulthood. Gonadectomy (GDX) was carried out in adult male and female mice to examine the effects of sex steroids on the number of CRF neurons in the dorsolateral BNST.

Methods: The number of Venus-expressing neurons, stained by immunofluorescence, was compared between male and female mice over the course of development. GDX was carried out in adult mice. Immunohistochemistry, in combination with Nissl staining, was carried out, and the effects of sex or gonadal steroids were examined by estimating the number of Venus-expressing neurons, as well as the total number of neurons or glial cells, in each BNST subnucleus, using a stereological method.

Results: Most Venus-expressing neurons co-expressed Crf mRNA in the dorsolateral BNST. They constitute a group of neurons without calbindin immunoreactivity, which makes a contrast to the principal nucleus of the BNST that is characterized by calbindin immunostaining. In the dorsolateral BNST, the number of Venus-expressing neurons increased across developmental stages until adulthood. Sexual difference in the number of Venus-expressing neurons was not evident by postnatal day 5. In adulthood, however, there was a significant female predominance in the number of Venus expressing neurons in two subnuclei of the dorsolateral BNST, i.e., the oval nucleus of the BNST (ovBNST) and the anterolateral BNST (alBNST). The number of Venus-expressing neurons was smaller significantly in ovariectomized females compared with proestrous females in either ovBNST or alBNST, and greater significantly in orchiectomized males compared with gonadally intact males in ovBNST. The total number of neurons was also greater significantly in females than in males in ovBNST and alBNST, but it was not affected by GDX.

Conclusion: Venus-expressing CRF neurons showed female-biased sexual dimorphism in ovBNST and alBNST of the mouse. Expression of Venus in these subnuclei was controlled by gonadal steroids.

Keywords: Affection; Gonadectomy; Immunofluorescence; Mouse; Stereology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Castration
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / genetics
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Septal Nuclei / metabolism*
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone