Estrogen receptor β and oxytocin interact to modulate anxiety-like behavior and neuroendocrine stress reactivity in adult male and female rats

Andrea E. Kudwa, Robert F. McGivern, Robert J. Handa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated in response to stressors and is controlled by neurons residing in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN). Although gonadal steroid hormones can influence HPA reactivity to stressors, the exact mechanism of action is not fully understood. It is known, however, that estrogen receptor β (ERβ) inhibits HPA reactivity and decreases anxiety-like behavior in rodents. Since ERβ is co-expressed with oxytocin (OT) in neurons of the PVN, an ERβ-selective agonist was utilized to test the whether ERβ decreases stress-induced HPA reactivity and anxiety-like behaviors via an OTergic pathway. Adult gonadectomized male and female rats were administered diarylpropionitrile, or vehicle, peripherally for 5days. When tested for anxiety-like behavior on the elevated plus maze (EPM), diarylpropionitrile-treated males and females significantly increased time on the open arm of the EPM compared to vehicle controls indicating that ERβ reduces anxiety-like behaviors. One week after behavioral evaluation, rats were subjected to a 20minute restraint stress. Treatment with diarylpropionitrile reduced CORT and ACTH responses in both males and females. Subsequently, another group of animals was implanted with cannulae directed at the lateral ventricle. One week later, rats underwent the same protocol as above but with the additional treatment of intracerebroventricular infusion with an OT antagonist (des Gly-NH2 d(CH2)5 [Tyr(Me)2, Thr4] OVT) or VEH, 20min prior to behavioral evaluation. OT antagonist treatment blocked the effects of diarylpropionitrile on the display of anxiety-like behaviors and plasma CORT levels. These data indicate that ERβ and OT interact to modulate the HPA reactivity and the display of anxiety-like behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-296
Number of pages10
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - Apr 22 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • 3Beta diol
  • Anxiety
  • Diarylpropionitrile
  • Estrogen receptor
  • HPA axis
  • Oxytocin
  • Paraventricular nucleus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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