Brain Struct Funct. 2013 Aug 11.
Female sexual behavior is an established model of a naturally motivated behavior which is regulated by activity within the mesolimbic dopamine system. Repeated activation of the mesolimbic circuit by female sexual behavior elevates dopamine release and produces persistent postsynaptic alterations to dopamine D1 receptor signaling within the nucleus accumbens.
Here we demonstrate that sexual experience in female Syrian hamsters significantly increases spine density and alters morphology selectively in D1 receptor-expressing medium spiny neurons within the nucleus accumbens core, with no corresponding change in dopamine receptor binding or protein expression.
Our findings demonstrate that previous life experience with a naturally motivated behavior has the capacity to induce persistent structural alterations to the mesolimbic circuit that can increase reproductive success and are analogous to the persistent structural changes following repeated exposure to many drugs of abuse.