A Role for Hypocretin (Orexin) in Male Sexual Behavior

The Journal of Neuroscience, March 14, 2007, 27(11):2837-2845; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4121-06.2007
John W. Muschamp, Juan M. Dominguez, Satoru M. Sato, Roh-Yu Shen, and Elaine M. Hull

The role of hypocretin (orexin; hcrt/orx) neurons in regulation of arousal is well established. Recently, hcrt/orx has been implicated in food reward and drug-seeking behavior. We report here that in male rats, Fos immunoreactivity (ir) in hcrt/orx neurons increases markedly during copulation, whereas castration produces decreases in hcrt/orx neuron cell counts and protein levels in a time course consistent with postcastration impairments in copulatory behavior. This effect was reversed by estradiol replacement. Immunolabeling for androgen (AR) and estrogen (ER) receptors revealed no colocalization of hcrt/orx with AR and few hcrt/orx neurons expressing ER, suggesting that hormonal regulation of hcrt/orx expression is via afferents from neurons containing those receptors. We also demonstrate that systemic administration of the orexin-1 receptor antagonist SB 334867 [N-(2-methyl-6-benzoxazolyl)-N”-1,5-naphthyridin-4-yl urea] impairs copulatory behavior. One locus for the prosexual effects of hcrt/orx may be the ventral tegmental area (VTA). We show here that hcrt-1/orx-A produces dose-dependent increases in firing rate and population activity of VTA dopamine (DA) neurons in vivo. Activation of hcrt/orx during copulation, and in turn, excitation of VTA DA neurons by hcrt/orx, may contribute to the robust increases in nucleus accumbens DA previously observed during male sexual behavior. Subsequent triple immunolabeling in anterior VTA showed that Fos-ir in tyrosine hydroxylase-positive neurons apposed to hcrt/orx fibers increases during copulation. Together, these data support the view that hcrt/orx peptides may act in a steroid-sensitive manner to facilitate the energized pursuit of natural rewards like sex via activation of the mesolimbic DA system.

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