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Sexual Dimorphism in the Brain of the Monogamous California Mouse (Peromyscus californicus).

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Sex differences in behavior and morphology are usually assumed to be stronger in polygynous species compared to monogamous species. A few brain structures have been identified as sexually dimorphic in polygynous rodent species, but it is less clear whether these differences persist in monogamous species. California mice are among the 5% or less of mammals that are considered to be monogamous and as such provide an ideal model to examine sexual dimorphism in neuroanatomy. In the present study we compared the volume of hypothalamic- and limbic-associated regions in female and male California mice for sexual dimorphism. We also used tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunohistochemistry to compare the number of dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in female and male California mice. Additionally, tract tracing was used to accurately delineate the boundaries of the VTA. The total volume of the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area (SDN-POA), the principal nucleus of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), and the posterodorsal medial amygdala (MEA) was larger in males compared to females. In the SDN-POA we found that the magnitude of sex differences in the California mouse were intermediate between the large differences observed in promiscuous meadow voles and rats and the absence of significant differences in monogamous prairie voles. However, the magnitude of sex differences in MEA and the BNST were comparable to polygynous species. No sex differences were observed in the volume of the whole brain, the VTA, the nucleus accumbens or the number of TH-ir neurons in the VTA. These data show that despite a monogamous social organization, sexual dimorphisms that have been reported in polygynous rodents extend to California mice. Our data suggest that sex differences in brain structures such as the SDN-POA persist across species with different social organizations and may be an evolutionarily conserved characteristic of mammalian brains.

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