Successful reproduction in vertebrates depends critically upon a suite of precopulatory behaviors that occur prior to mating. In Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus), these behaviors include vaginal scent marking and preferential investigation of male odors. The neural regulation of vaginal marking and opposite-sex odor preference likely involves an interconnected set of steroid-sensitive nuclei that includes the medial amygdala (MA), the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), and the medial preoptic area (MPOA). For example, lesions of MA eliminate opposite-sex odor preference and reduce overall levels of vaginal marking, whereas lesions of MPOA decrease vaginal marking in response to male odors. Although BNST is densely interconnected with both MA and MPOA, little is known about the role of BNST in female precopulatory behaviors. To address this question, females received either bilateral, excitotoxic lesions of BNST (BNST-X) or sham lesions (SHAM), and were tested for scent marking and for investigatory responses to male and female odors. Whereas SHAM females vaginal marked more to male odors than female odors on two days of the estrous cycle, BNST-X females marked at equivalent levels to both odors. This deficit is not due to alterations in social odor investigation, as both BNST-X and SHAM females investigated male odors more than female odors. Finally, BNST lesions did not generally disrupt the cyclic changes in reproductive behaviors that occur across the estrous cycle. Taken together, these results demonstrate that BNST is critical for the normal expression of solicitational behaviors by females in response to male odor stimuli.
- Scent marking