The role of prolactin and testosterone in mediating seasonal differences in the self-grooming behavior of male meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus


Self-grooming in response to the odors of conspecifics is a form of olfactory communication among meadow voles. The amount of time meadow voles spend self-grooming when they encounter the odors of conspecifics varies seasonally, with males targeting the odors of reproductively active females only during the breeding season. Other odor related behaviors in male voles such as odor preferences for conspecifics and the attractiveness of their odors to conspecifics vary seasonally as well. For male meadow voles, these behaviors are mediated by seasonal variations in testosterone (T) and prolactin (PRL) titers. The objective of this study was to determine whether seasonal differences in the amount of time male meadow voles self-groom in response to odors of conspecifics are mediated by seasonal rhythms in their circulating T and PRL titers. We tested the hypothesis that high titers of both T and PRL are necessary for reproductively active (long-photoperiod; LP) males and sufficient for reproductively quiescent (short-photoperiod; SP) male voles to spend more time self-grooming in response to odors of LP females than to those of other conspecifics. Results of this study demonstrate that high titers of PRL and T are necessary for LP male meadow vole to self-groom more in response to odors of LP females as compared to those of other conspecifics, but were not sufficient to induce SP males to preferentially self-groom to odors of LP females. The endocrine control of self-grooming by LP males appears to depend upon high titers of both PRL and T, which matches the endocrine mediation of other odor related behaviors in male voles. In contrast, the endocrine tissues that underlie self-grooming in SP male meadow voles appear to be refractory to the effects of LP-equivalent titers of PRL and T. © 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Publication Title

Physiology and Behavior