Effects of Sexual Experience and Puberty on Mouse Genital Cortex revealed by Chronic Imaging
Current Biology. 2019-11-01; 29(21): 3588-3599.e4
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The topographic map in layer 4 of somatosensory cortex is usually specified early postnatally and stable thereafter. Genital cortex, however, undergoes a sex-hormone- and sexual-touch-dependent pubertal expansion. Here, we image pubertal development of genital cortex in Scnn1a-Tg3-Cre mice, where transgene expression has been shown to be restricted to layer 4 neurons with primary sensory cortex identity. Interestingly, during puberty, the number of Scnn1a+ neurons roughly doubled within genital cortex. The increase of Scnn1a+ neurons was gradual and rapidly advanced by initial sexual experience. Neurons that gained Scnn1a expression comprised stellate and pyramidal neurons in layer 4. Unlike during neonatal development, pyramids did not retract their apical dendrites during puberty. Calcium imaging revealed stronger genital-touch responses in Scnn1a+ neurons in males versus females and a developmental increase in responsiveness in females. The first sexual interaction is a unique physical experience that often creates long-lasting memories. We suggest such experience uniquely alters somatosensory body maps.