[en] Neural production of 17β-oestradiol via aromatisation of testosterone may play a critical role in rapid, non-genomic regulation of physiological and behavioural processes. In brain nuclei implicated in the control of sexual behaviour, sexual or stressfull stimuli induce respectively a rapid inhibition or increase in preoptic aromatase activity (AA). Here, we tested quail that were either non-stressed or acutely stressed (15 min restraint) immediately prior to sexual interaction (5 min) with stressed or non-stressed partners. We measured nuclei-specific AA changes, corresponding behavioural output, fertilisation rates and corticosterone (CORT) concentrations. In males, sexual interaction rapidly reversed stress-induced increases of AA in the medial preoptic nucleus (POM). This time scale (<5min) highlights the dynamic potential of the aromatase system to integrate input from stimuli that drive AA in opposing directions. Moreover, acute stress had minimal effects on male behaviour suggesting that the input from the sexual stimuli on POM AA may actively preserve sexual behaviour despite stress exposure. We also found distinct sex differences in contextual physiological responses: while males did not show any effect of partner status, females responded to both their stress exposure and the male partner's stress exposure at the level of circulating CORT and AA. In addition, fertilisation rates and female CORT correlated with the male partner's exhibition of sexually aggressive behaviour suggesting that female perception of the male can affect their physiology as much as direct stress. Overall, male reproduction appears relatively simple - sexual stimuli, irrespective of stress, drives major neural changes including rapid reversal of stress-induced changes of AA. In contrast, female reproduction appears more nuanced and context specific, with subjects responding physiologically and behaviourally to stress, the male partner's stress exposure, and female-directed male behaviour.
National Institutes of Health - NIH ; Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (Communauté française de Belgique) - F.R.S.-FNRS ; NSF ; Fonds de la Recherche Fondamentale Collective - FRFC ; ULg