It is still unclear whether Testosterone (T) increases sexual desire through a stimulation of the androgen receptor in relevant brain regions or through its conversion to estrogens. The aim of this study was to clarify the mechanisms of T facilitation of female sexual desire by assessing the effect of a non-aromatizable androgen (Dihydrotestosterone, DHT) in a validated animal model. Ovariectomized (OVX) Long-Evans rats were treated with oil (O) + O, 10 mcg Estradiol Benzoate (EB) + O, 10 mcg EB + 500 mcg Progesterone (P), O + 500 mcg DHT or 10 mcg EB + 500 mcg DHT (n = 12 per group). EB was administered 48 h, while P and DHT 4 h, prior to 4 sexual behavioral testing sessions in bisected unilevel pacing chambers. Appetitive behaviors (the frequencies of hops/darts and solicitations) were considered as the main outcome measure. Sexual receptivity indexes [lordosis magnitude, expressed as lordosis rating (LR), and lordosis quotient (LQ)], rejection responses, as well as mounts, intromissions and ejaculations received from the male were also coded. The probability of transition among sexual behaviors was evaluated by Transition Matrices; T-Pattern analysis was performed to detect hidden repeated temporal behavioral sequences. Preliminary analyses found no statistically significant differences between the O + O and EB + O groups, therefore we excluded the EB + O group from further analyses. Rats treated with EB + DHT displayed significantly more appetitive behaviors compared to negative controls (O + O and O + DHT), whereas no difference was observed between EB + DHT rats and positive controls (EB + P); noteworthy, a higher number of appetitive behaviors was observed in the O + DHT group compared to the O + O group. Furthermore, rats treated with EB + DHT showed significantly higher receptivity measures (LR and LQ) and received more mounts, intromissions and ejaculations compared to negative controls (O + O and O + DHT), to levels equivalent to EB + P. No differences were detected in female-male mounts or rejection responses among the 4 groups. Under a qualitative perspective, full solicitation was found exclusively in T-patterns of the EB + DHT group, which was also the only one to display T-patterns of higher order encompassing appetitive behaviors-only events. In conclusion, the administration of DHT in EB-primed OVX Long-Evans rats enhances sexual behavior measures. Specifically, DHT seems to stimulate sequences of appetitive behaviors separated from copulative/reproductive measures. Our data support an independent role of androgens in the facilitation of female sexual desire.
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