Sexually dimorphic role of BNST vasopressin cells in sickness and social behavior in male and female mice

Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Jan;83:68-77. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2019.09.015. Epub 2019 Sep 21.


Circumstantial evidence supports the hypothesis that the sexually dimorphic vasopressin (AVP) innervation of the brain tempers sickness behavior in males. Here we test this hypothesis directly, by comparing sickness behavior in animals with or without ablations of BNST AVP cells, a major source of sexually dimorphic AVP in the brain. We treated male and female AVP-iCre+ and AVP-iCre- mice that had been injected with viral Cre-dependent caspase-3 executioner construct into the BNST with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or sterile saline, followed by behavioral analysis. In all groups, LPS treatment reliably reduced motor behavior, increased anxiety-related behavior, and reduced sucrose preference and consumption. Male mice, whose BNST AVP cells had been ablated (AVP-iCre+), displayed only minor reductions in LPS-induced sickness behavior, whereas their female counterparts displayed, if anything, an increase in sickness behaviors. All saline-treated mice with BNST AVP cell ablations consumed more sucrose than did control mice, and males, but not females, with BNST AVP cell ablations showed reduced preference for novel conspecifics compared to control mice. These data confirm that BNST AVP cells control social behavior in a sexually dimorphic way, but do not play a critical role in altering sickness behavior.

Keywords: Arginine vasopressin; Bed nucleus of the stria terminalis; Sickness behavior; Social behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginine Vasopressin / metabolism*
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Eating
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Sucrose / metabolism


  • Arginine Vasopressin
  • Sucrose