Stress during pubertal development affects female sociosexual behavior in mice

Nat Commun. 2024 Apr 30;15(1):3610. doi: 10.1038/s41467-024-47300-w.


Puberty is a crucial phase for the development of female sexual behavior. Growing evidence suggests that stress during this period may interfere with the development of sexual behavior. However, the neural circuits involved in this alteration remain elusive. Here, we demonstrated in mice that pubertal stress permanently disrupted sexual performance without affecting sexual preference. This was associated with a reduced expression and activation of neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) in the ventrolateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMHvl). Fiber photometry revealed that VMHvl nNOS neurons are strongly responsive to male olfactory cues with this activation being substantially reduced in pubertally stressed females. Finally, treatment with a NO donor partially restored sexual performance in pubertally stressed females. This study provides insights into the involvement of VMHvl nNOS in the processing of olfactory cues important for the expression of female sexual behavior. In addition, exposure to stress during puberty disrupts the integration of male olfactory cues leading to reduced sexual behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide Donors / pharmacology
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I* / genetics
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I* / metabolism
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal* / physiology
  • Sexual Maturation*
  • Smell / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological* / physiopathology
  • Ventromedial Hypothalamic Nucleus / metabolism


  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I
  • Nos1 protein, mouse
  • Nitric Oxide Donors