Comment: Sexual behavior can speed addiction to amphetamines, because it appears to cross-sensitize neuronal response in the nucleus accumbens.

The Journal of Neuroscience

Katherine C. Bradley and Robert L. Meisel


Dopamine transmission in the nucleus accumbens can be activated by drugs, stress, or motivated behaviors, and repeated exposure to these stimuli can sensitize this dopamine response. The objectives of this study were to determine whether female sexual behavior activates nucleus accumbens neurons and whether past sexual experience cross-sensitizes neuronal responses in the nucleus accumbens to amphetamine. Using immunocytochemical labeling, c-Fos expression in different subregions (shell vs core at the rostral, middle, and caudal levels) of the nucleus accumbens was examined in female hamsters that had varying amounts of sexual experience. Female hamsters, given either 6 weeks of sexual experience or remaining sexually naive, were tested for sexual behavior by exposure to adult male hamsters. Previous sexual experience increased c-Fos labeling in the rostral and caudal levels but not in the middle levels of the nucleus accumbens. Testing for sexual behavior increased labeling in the core, but not the shell, of the nucleus accumbens. To validate that female sexual behavior can sensitize neurons in the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, the locomotor responses of sexually experienced and sexually naive females to an amphetamine injection were then compared. Amphetamine increased general locomotor activity in all females. However, sexually experienced animals responded sooner to amphetamine than did sexually naive animals. These data indicate that female sexual behavior can activate neurons in the nucleus accumbens and that sexual experience can cross-sensitize neuronal responses to amphetamine. In addition, these results provide additional evidence for functional differences between the shell and core of the nucleus accumbens and across its anteroposterior axis.