No Sex Without Kiss! Researchers Discover How The Brain Controls Sex

Source: Saarland University

Summary: A research team has made a major advancement in the understanding of how the brain controls sex.

Sexual behavior is essential for the survival of many species. In many animals, sexual behavior is timed to occur with ovulation to ensure the highest possible chance of fertilization and therefore, continuation of the species. Until now, little was known about how the brain ties together ovulation, attraction and sex. By using female mice as a model researchers from the Saarland University found that a hormone in the brain, appropriately called kisspeptin, drives both attraction to the opposite sex and sexual behavior. They discovered that pheromones secreted by the male mouse activate these neurons, which, in turn, transmit this signal to another population of neurons GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone neurons) to drive attraction to the opposite sex. In parallel, they also transmit this signal to cells that produce the neurotransmitter nitric oxide to trigger sexual behavior. The study findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Kisspeptin neurons act as a central regulatory hub orchestrating sexual behavior.

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

This work has provided new insight into how the brain decodes signals from the outside world and then translates the environmental cues into behavior. Now its known that a single molecule, kisspeptin, controls all of these aspects through different brain circuits running in parallel with one another. Taken together, these findings show that puberty, fertility, attraction and sex are all controlled by kisspeptin. The data establishes kisspeptin neurons as a central regulatory hub orchestrating sexual behavior. This work opens up new and exciting possibilities for the treatment of patients with psychosexual disorders such as hyposexual desire disorder.

Prof. Julie Bakker explained, “There are currently no good treatments available for women suffering from low sexual desire. The discovery that kisspeptin controls both attraction and sexual desire opens up exciting new possibilities for the development of treatments for low sexual desire.”

More Information: Vincent Hellier et al, “Female sexual behavior in mice is controlled by kisspeptin neurons”, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02797-2 

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