Morphological sex differences and laterality in the prepubertal medial amygdala.
The medial amygdala (MeA) is crucial in the expression of sex-specific social behaviors. In adult rats the regional volume of the MeA posterodorsal subnucleus (MeApd) is approximately 50% larger in males than in females. The MeApd is also sexually dimorphic in prepubertal rats. We have recently shown that the left MeApd is significantly larger in prepubertal males than females. In contrast with volumetric sex differences elsewhere in the brain, however, we found no sex difference in the number of left MeApd neurons. In the present study we investigated the cellular bases of the sex difference in MeApd regional volume by quantifying the volume occupied by dendrites, axons, synapses, or glia, and by measuring MeApd dendritic morphology in 26-29-day-old male and female rats. We find that the volume occupied by dendritic shafts and glia completely accounts for the sex difference in left MeApd regional volume. Dendritic length measurements in the left hemisphere confirm that males have greater overall dendritic length, which is due to greater branching rather than to longer dendrite segments. In the right hemisphere the pattern of sex differences was different: Males have more MeApd neurons than females, whereas the dendritic morphology of individual neurons is not sexually dimorphic. These results highlight the importance of evaluating laterality in the MeA and suggest that the left and right MeA could play different roles in neuroendocrine regulation and sexually dimorphic social behaviors.