Sex differences in effects of dopamine D1 receptors on social withdrawal

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Dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) plays a critical role in the regulation of motivational states. Recent studies in male rodents show that social defeat stress increases the activity of ventral tegmental dopamine neurons projecting to the NAc, and that this increased activity is necessary for stress-induced social withdrawal. Domestic female mice are not similarly aggressive, which has hindered complementary studies in females. Using the monogamous California mouse (Peromyscus californicus), we found that social defeat increased total dopamine, DOPAC, and HVA content in the NAc in both males and females. These results are generally consistent with previous studies in Mus, and suggest defeat stress also increases NAc dopamine signaling in females. However, these results do not explain our previous observations that defeat stress induces social withdrawal in female but not male California mice. Pharmacological manipulations provided more insights. When 500 ng of the D1 agonist SKF38393 was infused in the NAc shell of females that were naïve to defeat, social interaction behavior was reduced. This same dose of SKF38393 had no effect in males, suggesting that D1 receptor activation is sufficient to induce social withdrawal in females but not males. Intra-accumbens infusion of the D1 antagonist SCH23390 increased social approach behavior in females exposed to defeat but not in females naïve to defeat. This result suggests that D1 receptors are necessary for defeat-induced social withdrawal. Overall, our results suggest that sex differences in molecular pathways that are regulated by D1 receptors contribute to sex differences in social withdrawal behavior.