Testosterone In Rodents Essay

2876 words - 12 pages

It has long been known that hormones in the body can have biological as well as behavioral effects on animals. Hormones can stimulate animals to grow, regulate, and differentiate as well as press them to exhibit a wide variety of behaviors for an even broader scope of reasons. Perhaps no other hormone has gained the public notoriety of testosterone. Long considered a masculine hormone, testosterone is inextricably coupled in the minds of the public as the hormone that makes men tick. To its effects are attributed all things manly, from muscle and hair growth to aggression to an unwillingness to ask for directions. But what are the true effects of testosterone on the body, and ...view middle of the document...

Out of this research came the popular and resilient organizational and activational hypothesis, in which perinatal hormone levels organized the creation of a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain. Without such early organization, the hypothesis states, any activational stimuli (i.e. exposure to testosterone) will not have as great an effect since there is no structural or functional basis for responding to such activational forces. A competing hypothesis focuses not on the internal organization of the animal in question but on the context of the situation that the animal is placed in. Within this hypothesis the environment can have a significant effect on the behaviors elicited. It is worth exploring a brief survey of the evidence and applications of these theories in order to gain a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. These theories also play a key role in the interpretation of behavioral experiments as they pertain to humans.
Androgens—especially testosterone—have long been studied for their myriad effects on animal behavior. An early paper by Tollman and King (1956) attempted to study the effects of testosterone on aggression in rats. Their method tested the effects of testosterone propionate on three groups of rats: gonadectomized males, gonadectomized females, and intact females. All surgeries, including sham operations, occurred at 30 days of age. The gonadectomized animals received 0.5 mg testosterone propionate—roughly 10 times the daily endogenous production for rats (Chai 1956)—and the intact females received saline. The animals were then paired and observed for fighting behavior. Regardless of treatment status, the female rats in this experiment fought equally often, but at a much lower level as compared to gonadectomized males treated with testosterone propionate (Tollman and King 1956). Despite its methodological weaknesses (i.e. the use of non-physiologic levels of hormone, to be discussed further) this paper represents an important step forward in the understanding of hormones, the brain, and behavior. Tollman and King categorized four possible interpretations of their data, and ended up focusing on two as the most likely candidates. One interpretation, to be discussed later in further detail, is that in some way females do not provide an appropriate level of stimulation to elicit the fighting behavior. The interpretation of interest is the one in which they mention the possibility that “the nervous systems of both sexes respond differentially to testosterone” (Tollman and King 1956). This conclusion is a clear example of the organizational and activational hypothesis of sexual dimorphism. Tollman and King essentially recognized that by 30 days of age their rats’ brains might already have been structurally or functionally sexually dimorphic in their response to testosterone. Within this paradigm it can be explained that the females were already wired with a general insensitivity to testosterone, explaining its null effects...

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