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Estrogen receptor alpha (ER alpha) typically masculinizes male behavior, while low levels of ER alpha in the medial amygdala (MeA) and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST) are associated with high levels of male prosocial behavior. In the males of the highly social prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster), increasing ER alpha in the MeA inhibited the expression of spontaneous alloparental behavior and produced a preference for novel females. To test for the effects of increased ER alpha in the BST, a viral vector was used to enhance ER alpha expression in the BST of adult male prairie voles. Following treatment, adult males were tested for alloparental behavior with 1-3-day- old pups, and for heterosexual social preference and affiliation. Treatment did not affect alloparental behavior as 73% of ER alpha-BST males and 62.5% of control males were alloparental. Increasing ER alpha in the BST affected heterosexual affiliation, with ER alpha-BST males spending significantly less total time in side-by-side contact with females relative to time spent with control males. ER alpha-BST males did not show a preference for either the familiar or novel female. These findings differed significantly from those reported in ER alpha-MeA enhanced males, where ER alpha inhibited alloparental behavior and produced a preference for a novel female. The findings from this study suggest two things: first, that increased ER alpha in the BST decreases social affiliation and second, that altering ER alpha in different regions of the social neural circuit differentially impacts the expression of social behavior.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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