sex differences in the expression of sex steroid receptor mRNA in the quail brain

C. Voigt, G. F. Ball, J. Balthazart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


In Japanese quail, males will readily exhibit the full sequence of male-typical sexual behaviors but females never show this response, even after ovariectomy and treatment with male-typical concentrations of exogenous testosterone. Testosterone aromatisation plays a key-limiting role in the activation of this behavior but the higher aromatase activity in the brain of males compared to females is not sufficient to explain the behavioural sex difference. The cellular and molecular bases of this prominent sex difference in the functional consequences of testosterone have not been identified so far. We hypothesised that the differential expression of sex steroid receptors in specific brain areas could mediate this behavioural sex difference. Therefore, using radioactive in situ hybridisation histochemistry, we quantified the expression of the mRNA coding for the androgen receptor (AR) and the oestrogen receptors (ER) of the α and β subtypes. All three receptors were expressed in an anatomically discrete manner in various nuclei of the hypothalamus and limbic system and, at usually lower densities, in a few other brain areas. In both sexes, the intensity of the hybridisation signal for all steroid receptors was highest in the medial preoptic nucleus (POM), a major site of testosterone action that is related to the activation of male sexual behaviour. Although no sex difference in the optical density of the AR hybridisation signal could be found in POM, the area covered by AR mRNA was significantly larger in males than in females, indicating a higher overall degree of AR expression in this region in males. By contrast, females tended to have significantly higher levels of AR expression than males in the lateral septum. ERα was more densely expressed in females than males throughout the medial preoptic and hypothalamic areas (including the POM and the medio-basal hypothalamus), an area implicated in the control of female receptivity) and in the mesencephalic nucleus intercollicularis. ERβ was more densely expressed in the medio-basal hypothalamus of females but a difference in the reverse direction (males > females) was observed in the nucleus taeniae of the amygdala. These data suggest that a differential expression of steroid receptors in specific brain areas could mediate at least certain aspects of the sex differences in behavioural responses to testosterone, although they do not appear to be sufficient to explain the complete lack of activation by testosterone of male-typical copulatory behaviour in females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1045-1062
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Androgen receptor
  • In situ hybridisation
  • Japanese quail
  • Oestrogen receptor
  • Preoptic area
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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