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Little is known regarding the descending inhibitory control of genital reflexes such as ejaculation and vaginal contractions. The brainstem nucleus paragigantocellularis (nPGi) projects bilaterally to the lumbosacral motoneuron pools that innervate the genital musculature of both male and female rats. Electrolytic nPGi lesions facilitate ejaculation in males, leading to the hypothesis that the nPGi is the source of descending inhibition to genital reflexes. However, the function of the nPGi in female sexual behavior remains to be elucidated. To this end, male and female rats received bilateral excitotoxic fiber-sparing lesions of the nPGi, and sexual behavior and sexual behavior-induced Fos expression were examined. In males, nPGi lesions facilitated copulation, supporting the hypothesis that the nPGi, and not fibers-of-passage, is the source of descending inhibition of genital reflexes in male rats. nPGi lesions in males did not alter sexual behavior-induced Fos expression in any brain region examined. nPGi-lesioned females spent significantly less time mating with stimulus males and had significantly longer ejaculation-return latencies compared to baseline. These results did not significantly differ from control females, but this trend warranted further analysis of the reinforcing value of sexual behavior. Both lesioned and non-lesioned females formed a conditioned place preference (CPP) for artificial vaginocervical stimulation (aVCS). However, post-reinforcement, nPGilesioned females did not differ in the percentage of time in spent in the non-reinforced chamber versus the reinforced chamber, suggesting a weakened CPP for aVCS. nPGi lesions in females reduced sexual behavior-induced Fos expression throughout the hypothalamus and amygdala. Taken together, these results suggest that while nPGi lesions in males facilitate copulation, such lesions in females attenuate several aspects of sexual behavior resulting in a reduction in the rewarding value of copulation that may be mediated by nPGi control of genital reflexes. This work has important implications for the understanding and treatment of sexual dysfunction in people including delayed/premature ejaculation, involuntary vaginal spasms, and pain during intercourse.


This article was originally published in the journal Neuroscience and is available to subscribers here: Copyright © 2013 Elsevier B.V.

The post-print version (post-peer-reviewed) is posted here with permission of the author.