Evidence suggests an important role of Pavlovian learning in sexual partner selection. Female rats that experience paced copulation with a male scented with a neutral odor selectively solicit and receive ejaculations from the scented male relative to an unscented male. Exposure to the conditioned odor alone induces Fos protein in regions of the brain associated with sexual excitation. Here we tested whether female rats can be conditioned to show a sexual preference for an unscented male rat of the same strain. Female Long-Evans rats were given 10 copulatory trials with either a one-hole pacing divider or a four-hole pacing divider in a unilevel chamber with the same conspecific male (n = 16). Females were then given an open-field partner preference test with the paired male versus a novel male. After two reconditioning trials females were exposed to the partner or a novel male to induce Fos expression. Females that paced with the one-hole divider received the first ejaculation and more ejaculations overall from the paired compared to novel male. Fos immunoreactivity within oxytocin neurons in the PVN, mPOA, and VMH was increased in females with a preference that were exposed to the paired male. These data indicate that female rats can form selective sexual preferences for an individual conspecific and that their formation depends on the type of pacing during conditioning. These findings further suggest the involvement of oxytocin in the display of conditioned preferences. Thus, early copulatory experience appears to determine the mating strategy used by female rats.
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