2006 Sep;18(9):685-91.
Caquineau C1, Leng G, Guan XM, Jiang M, Van der Ploeg L, Douglas AJ.
1 Centre for Integrative Physiology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK. [email protected]


The peptides alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH) and oxytocin have very similar effects on several behaviours, including male sexual behaviour. Both induce penile erection and enhance copulatory behaviour when given centrally, suggesting that their central actions are not independent. Here, we used intromission as a physiological stimulus to investigate whether some central effects of alpha-MSH during male sexual behaviour are mediated by oxytocin neurones. We used the expression of the immediate-early gene product Fos to investigate oxytocin neurone activation at intromission and after intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) administration of alpha-MSH (1 microg/5 microl) and studied the effects of i.c.v. administration of a MC4 receptor antagonist on Fos expression and on the latency of male rats to exhibit sexual behaviour in the presence of a receptive female. In rats that showed intromission, Fos was expressed in magnocellular oxytocin neurones in both the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and the supraoptic nucleus (SON), but there was no significant activation of parvocellular oxytocin neurones of the PVN. Similarly, alpha-MSH increased Fos expression in magnocellular oxytocin neurones but had little or no effect in parvocellular oxytocin neurones. In male rats that achieved intromission, central injection of a MC4 receptor antagonist significantly attenuated the increase in Fos expression in magnocellular oxytocin neurones in both the PVN and the SON and increased mount and intromission latencies compared to vehicle-injected controls. Together, the results indicate that magnocellular oxytocin neurones are involved in the central regulation of male sexual behaviour, and that some of the central effects of alpha-MSH are likely to be mediated by magnocellular oxytocin neurones.