The effects of exogenous melatonin and melatonin receptor blockade on aggression and estrogen-dependent gene expression in male California mice (Peromyscus californicus).
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Photoperiodic regulation of aggression has been well established in several vertebrate species, with rodents demonstrating increased aggression in short day photoperiods as compared to long day photoperiods. Previous work suggests that estrogens regulate aggression via rapid nongenomic pathways in short days and act more slowly in long days, most likely via genomic pathways. The current study therefore examines the role of melatonin in mediating aggression and estrogen-dependent gene transcription. In Experiment 1, male California mice were housed under long day photoperiods and were treated with either 0.3 μg/g of melatonin, 40 mg/kg of the melatonin receptor antagonist luzindole, or vehicle for 10 days. We found that melatonin administration significantly increased aggression as compared to mice receiving vehicle, but this phenotype was not completely ameliorated by luzindole. In Experiment 2, male California mice were injected with either 1mg/kg of the aromatase inhibitor letrozole or vehicle, and oxytocin receptor (OTR), estrogen receptor alpha (ERα), and c-fos gene expression was examined in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) and medial preoptic area (MPOA). In the BNST, but not MPOA, OTR mRNA was significantly downregulated following letrozole administration, indicating that OTR is an estrogen-dependent gene in the BNST. In contrast, ERα was not estrogen dependent in either brain region. In the MPOA, OTR mRNA was inhibited by melatonin, and luzindole suppressed this effect. C-fos and ERα did not differ between treatments in any brain region examined. These results suggest that it is unlikely that melatonin facilitates aggression via broad spectrum regulation of estrogen-dependent gene expression. Instead, melatonin may act via regulation of other transcription factors such as extracellular signal regulated kinase.