Neuronal responses in the nucleus accumbens shell during sexual behavior in male rats. (2012)

COMMENTS: Study reveals the nucleus accumbens as the center of the sexual universe. This mall but powerful structure governs all rewards and transition to an addicted state.

J Neurosci. 2012 Feb 1;32(5):1672-86.

Matsumoto J, Urakawa S, Hori E, de Araujo MF, Sakuma Y, Ono T, Nishijo H.


System Emotional Science, University of Toyama, Toyama 930-0194, Japan.


Previous behavioral studies have indicated that the nucleus accumbens (NAc) shell of a male rat is involved in its sexual behavior; however, no previous studies have investigated neuronal activities in the male rat NAc shell during sexual behavior. To investigate this issue, we recorded single unit activities in the NAc shell of male rats during sexual behavior. Of 123 NAc shell neurons studied, 53, 47, and 40 neurons exhibited significantly changed firing rates at various times during intromission, genital auto-grooming, and sniffing of females, respectively.

The two types of NAc shell neurons [putative fast spiking interneurons (pFSIs) and medium spiny neurons (pMSNs)] responded differently during sexual behavior.

 First, more pFSIs than pMSNs exhibited inhibitory responses to thrusting with intromission and genital grooming, while pFSIs and pMSNs responded similarly to sniffing of females.

Second, both pFSIs and pMSNs responded differently to thrusting with and without intromission.

 Furthermore, NAc shell neuronal activity was significantly different across the different phases of sexual behavior, and the number of NAc shell neurons with delta oscillation, which is related to behavioral inhibition, and high gamma oscillation, which is related to reward perception, increased after ejaculation.

 Together, our results suggest that the NAc shell is deeply involved in sexual behavior, and changes in NAc shell neuronal activity are related to performance of sexual behavior, encoding cues or contexts related to sexual behavior, reward-related processing, and the inhibition of sexual behavior after ejaculation.