Hypothalamic Growth-Related Cellular Phenomena and Brain Stem-Cord Motor Control Phenomena in a Weil-Defined Vertebrate Neuroendocrine Circuit

  • D. W. Pfaff
  • A. Robbins
Conference paper


Determining the factors which modulate activity of specific cell groups in the brain requires detailed enough understanding of the particular circuits involved that experimental measurements can be set up with precision and critical interpretations can be applied in a sophisticated manner. The neural circuit for a primary female reproductive behavior, lordosis behavior, has been determined (Pfaff 1980; Pfaff and Schwartz-Giblin 1988). Certain strategic advantages allowed this to be the first one completed for a vertebrate behavior, namely relatively simple stimuli and responses, and an exquisite dependence on steroid hormone action in the hypothalamus. The power of estrogenic and progestin actions in facilitating lordosis behavior permitted us to use these steroid hormones as chemically defined triggers for the close analysis of neural mechanisms, and allowed us to relate neurobiological to molecular biological approaches. Using steroid hormone autoradiography, precise locations of neurons with steroid sex hormone receptors were mapped (Pfaff 1968; Pfaff and Keiner 1973; Pfaff 1975; Morrell and Pfaff 1978). An important aspect was the generality of several features of these hormone-binding neurons across all vertebrate species examined (Pfaff 1976; Morrell and Pfaff 1978; McEwen et al. 1979). Not only were the existence and locations of estrogen, androgen, and progestin binding neurons often reliable from species to species, but they also could be correlated well with neural events controlling reproductive physiology.


Receptive Field Pudendal Nerve Spinal Segment Estrogen Treatment Hypothalamic Neuron 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. W. Pfaff
    • 1
  • A. Robbins
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Neurobiology and BehaviorThe Rockefeller UniversityNew YorkUSA

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