Copley Sean

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    Sexually monomorphic maps and dimorphic responses in rat genital cortex
    ( 2015-09) Lenschow, Constanze ; Copley, Sean ; Gardiner, Jayne M. ; Talbot, Zoe N. ; Vitenzon, Ariel ; Brecht, Michael
    Mammalian external genitals show sexual dimorphism [1,2] and can change size and shape upon sexual arousal. Genitals feature prominently in the oldest pieces of figural art [3] and phallic depictions of penises informed psychoanalytic thought about sexuality [4, 5]. Despite this longstanding interest, the neural representations of genitals are still poorly understood [6]. In somatosensory cortex specifically, many studies did not detect any cortical representation of genitals [7-9]. Studies in humans debate, if genitals are represented displaced below the foot of the cortical body map [10-12], or if they are represented somatotopically [13-15]. We wondered, what a high-resolution mapping of genital representations might tell us about the sexual differentiation of the mammalian brain. We identified genital responses in rat somatosensory cortex in a region previously assigned as arm/leg cortex. Genital responses were more common in males than in females. Despite such response dimorphism, we observed a stunning anatomical monomorphism of cortical penis and clitoris input maps revealed by cytochrome-oxidasestaining of cortical layer-4. Genital representations were somatotopic, bilaterally symmetric and their relative size increased markedly during puberty. Size, shape and erect posture give the cortical penis representation a phallic appearance pointing to a role in sexually aroused states. Cortical genital neurons showed unusual multi-body-part responses and sexually dimorphic receptive fields. Specifically, genital neurons were coactivated by distant body regions, which are touched during mounting in the respective sex. Genital maps indicate a deep homology of penis and clitoris representations in line with a fundamentally bi-sexual layout [16] of the vertebrate brain.