In developing rats, sex differences in the number of apoptotic cells are found in the central division of the medial preoptic nucleus (MPNc), which is a significant component of the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area, and in the anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPV). Specifically, male rats have more apoptotic cells in the developing AVPV, whereas females have more apoptotic cells in the developing MPNc. To determine the mechanisms for the sex differences in apoptosis in these nuclei, we compared the expression of the Bcl-2 family members and active caspase-3 in postnatal female and male rats. Western blot analyses for the Bcl-2 family proteins were performed using preoptic tissues isolated from the brain on postnatal day (PD) 1 (day of birth) or on PD8. In the AVPV-containing tissues of PD1 rats, there were significant sex differences in the level of Bcl-2 (female > male) and Bax (female < male) proteins, but not of Bcl-xL or Bad proteins. In the MPNc-containing tissues of PD8 rats, there were significant sex differences in the protein levels for Bcl-2 (female < male), Bax (female > male), and Bad (female < male), but not for Bcl-xL. Immunohisiochemical analyses showed significant sex differences in the number of active caspase-3-immueoreactive cells in the AVPV on PD1 (female < male) and in the MPNc on PD8 (female > male). We further found that active caspase-3-immunoreactive cells of the AVPV and MPNc were immunoreactive for NeuN, a neuronal marker. These results suggest that there are sex differences in the induction of apoptosis via the mitochondrial pathway during development of the AVPV and MPNc.
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