Sex differences in adult mood and in stress-induced transcriptional coherence across mesocorticolimbic circuitry.

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Transl Psychiatry 2020 Feb 6; 10(1):59






Women are approximately two times as likely to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) compared to men. While sex differences in MDD might be driven by circulating gonadal hormones, we hypothesized that developmental hormone exposure and/or genetic sex might play a role. Mice were gonadectomized in adulthood to isolate the role of developmental hormones. We examined the effects of developmental gonadal and genetic sex on anhedonia-/depressive-like behaviors under non-stress and chronic stress conditions and performed RNA-sequencing in three mood-relevant brain regions. We used an integrative network approach to identify transcriptional modules and stress-specific hub genes regulating stress susceptibility, with a focus on whether these differed by sex. After identifying sex differences in anhedonia-/depressive-like behaviors (female > male), we show that both developmental hormone exposure (gonadal female > gonadal male) and genetic sex (XX > XY) contribute to the sex difference. The top biological pathways represented by differentially expressed genes were related to immune function; we identify which differentially expressed genes are driven by developmental gonadal or genetic sex. There was very little overlap in genes affected by chronic stress in males and females. We also identified highly co-expressed gene modules affected by stress, some of which were affected in opposite directions in males and females. Since all mice had equivalent hormone exposure in adulthood, these results suggest that sex differences in gonadal hormone exposure during sensitive developmental periods program adult sex differences in mood, and that these sex differences are independent of adult circulating gonadal hormones.