Territorial behavior in male mice might be linked to more "girl-power" than ever suspected, according to new findings at UCSF. For the first time, researchers have identified networks of nerve cells in the brain that are associated with how male mice defend their territory and have shown that these cells are controlled by the female hormone estrogen.
The research suggests a pivotal role for estrogen — as well as the enzyme aromatase that is responsible for estrogen synthesis — in male territorial behavior, according to findings published in the Oct. 2 issue of the journal Cell. The paper, based on research at UCSF and Fujita Health University, also appears online at www.cell.com
Estrogen's role in the mating behaviors of these mice, however, was less clear, which indicates that territorial and sexual behaviors are likely influenced by distinct and separate connections in the brain, according to Nirao Shah, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UCSF Department of Anatomy and senior author of the paper.
"This really changes the way we view male and female behaviors," said Shah, who also is affiliated with the UCSF programs in neuroscience and genetics and in September received the 2009 Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health for his research. "What we previously looked upon as a single unit of gender-related behavior, we now see as a collection of separate behaviors controlled at least in part by distinct neural pathways."