Mast cells are located in the mammalian thalamus where their numbers are sensitive to reproductive hormones. To evaluate whether differences between sexes and over the estrus cycle influence the nuclear distribution of mast cells in mice, we mounted a comprehensive analysis of their distribution in males compared to females and in females over the estrus cycle. Compared to males, mast cells were more numerous in the lateral intralaminar and posterior nuclei of females during estrus and in the ventral posterolateral (VPL) and medial geniculate nuclei during proestrus. During estrus, mast cells were especially concentrated in those regions within the VPL and posterior thalamic nuclei that receive somatosensory information from the anogenital region. Treatment of ovariectomized mice with estrogen increased the number and the percent of mast cells that were degranulated compared to that after ovariectomy alone, an effect that was most apparent in the lateral intralaminar, VPL and posterior nuclei. In estrogen-primed, ovariectomized females, progesterone delivered 5 h before tissue collection counteracted the effects of estrogen. Cromolyn, a mast cell stabilizer, injected centrally 1 h prior to and 24 h after estrogen in ovariectomized mice, prevented the increase in number of mast cells in the whole thalamus and in the intralaminar, VPL and posterior nuclei. This suggests that estrogen induces hyperplasia by a mechanism that involves mast cell degranulation. Based on the discrete anatomical location of mast cells in areas of somatosensory nuclei that receive anogenital input together with the temporal correspondence of these cells with estrus, mast cells are well situated to influence sensory input in females during mating.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health grant NS39740 (A.A.L.) funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institutes on Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. The authors thank Christopher Hall for his excellent technical assistance in the completion of these studies and Dr. Glenn Giesler for his invaluable comments during the composition of the manuscript.