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Inhibition of vasopressin V1a receptors in the medioventral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis has sex- and context-specific anxiogenic effects.


Vasopressin V1a receptors (V1aR) are thought to contribute to the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression, sparking interest in V1aR as a therapeutic target. Although the global effects of V1aR have been documented, less is known about the specific neural circuits mediating these effects. Moreover, few studies have examined context-specific V1aR function in both males and females. By using the California mouse, we first studied the effects of sex and social defeat stress on V1aR binding in the forebrain. In females but not males, V1aR binding in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) was negatively correlated to social interaction behavior. In females stress also increased V1aR binding in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Infusions of V1aR antagonist in to the medioventral BNST (BNSTmv) had anxiogenic effects only in animals naïve to defeat. For males, inhibition of V1aR in BNSTmv had anxiogenic effects in social and nonsocial contexts, but for females, anxiogenic effects were limited to social contexts. In stressed females, inhibition of V1aR in the NAc shell had no effect on social interaction behavior, but had an anxiogenic effect in an open field test. These data suggest that V1aR in BNSTmv have anxiolytic and prosocial effects in males, and that in females, prosocial and anxiolytic effects of V1aR appear to be mediated independently by receptors in the BNSTmv and NAc shell, respectively. These findings suggest that males have more overlap in neural circuits modulating anxiety in social and nonsocial contexts than females.

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