Vaginal marking is a stereotyped scent marking behavior in female Syrian hamsters used to attract male hamsters for mating. Although the modulation of vaginal marking by hormones and odors is well understood, the motor control of this proceptive reproductive behavior remains unknown. Therefore, we used X-ray videography to visualize individual bone movements during vaginal marking. Kinematic analyses revealed several consistent motor patterns of vaginal marking. Despite exhibiting a diversity of trial-to-trial non-marking behaviors (e.g. locomotor stepping), we found that lowering and raising the pelvis consistently corresponded with coordinated flexion and extension cycles of the hip, knee, and tail, suggesting that these movements are fundamental to vaginal marking behavior. Surprisingly, we observed only small changes in the angles of the pelvic and sacral regions, suggesting previous reports of pelvic rotation during vaginal marking may need to be reconsidered. From these kinematic data, we inferred that vaginal marking is primarily due to the actions of hip and knee extensor muscles of the trailing leg working against gravity to support the weight of the animal as it controls the descent of the pelvis to the ground. The cutaneous trunci muscle likely mediates the characteristic flexion of the tail. Interestingly, this tail movement occurred on the same time scale as the joint kinematics suggesting possible synergistic recruitment of these muscle groups. These data therefore provide new targets for future studies examining the peripheral control of female reproductive behaviors.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Dr. Tyson Hedrick (UNC-Chapel Hill) for providing us with his open source Matlab digitizing software. This work was supported by NIH grant AR054760 to Y.H. Chang, NIH grant MH072930 to A. Petrulis, and in part by the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience under the STC program of the NSF , under agreement IBN 9876754 .