Exogenous testosterone prevents motoneuron atrophy induced by contralateral motoneuron depletion.
Gonadal steroids exhibit neuroprotective and neurotherapeutic effects. The lumbar spinal cord of male rats contains a highly androgen-sensitive population of motoneurons, the spinal nucleus of the bulbocavernosus (SNB), whose morphology and function are dependent on testosterone in adulthood. Unilateral SNB motoneuron depletion induces dendritic atrophy in contralateral SNB motoneurons, but this atrophy is reversed in previously castrated males treated with testosterone. In the present experiment we test the hypothesis that the morphology of SNB motoneurons is protected from atrophy after contralateral motoneuron depletion by exogenous testosterone alone (i.e., with no delay between castration and testosterone replacement). We unilaterally depleted SNB motoneurons by intramuscular injection of cholera toxin conjugated saporin. Simultaneously, some saporin-injected rats were castrated and immediately given replacement testosterone. Four weeks later, contralateral SNB motoneurons were labeled with cholera toxin conjugated HRP, soma sizes were measured, and dendritic arbors were reconstructed. Contralateral SNB motoneuron depletion induced somal atrophy and dendritic retraction, but testosterone treatment prevented both of these effects. Thus, the presence of high-normal levels of testosterone prevents motoneuron atrophy induced by contralateral motoneuron depletion. These data support a therapeutic role for testosterone in preventing atrophy induced by motoneuron injury.