mise à jour du 27 mars 2003
Neuroscience and behavioral reviews
1999; 23; 8; 1127-1142
Neuropeptides and sexual behaviour
A Argiolas
Department of neuroscience and centre for neuropharmacology, Cagliari, Italy


Many neuropeptides are involved in the control of sexual behaviour at the central level.
Among these, the most studied are adrenocorticotropin, alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone, oxytocin and opioid peptides.
This attempt to review old and new neuropharmacological, biochemical and psychobiological studies in this field, shows that all these neuropeptides apparently facilitate sexual behaviour, except for opioid peptides, which inhibit sexual performance, in most of the species studied so far (rats, mice, monkeys and humans).
However, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, corticotropin releasing factor, neuropeptide Y, galanin, cholecystokinin, substance P and vasoactive intestinal peptide may be also involved in the control of sexual behaviour.
Apparently, corticotropin releasing factor, neuropeptide Y and cholecystokinin inhibit, while substance P and vasoactive intestinal peptide facilitate, sexual behaviour.
In contrast, gonadotropin-releasing hormone has been reported to exert a facilitative, inhibitory or no effect at all on sexual behaviour. Galanin was also shown either to facilitate or inhibit sexual behaviour.
The above-mentioned putative role of the neuropeptides in sexual behaviour derives mainly from studies done in rats. In these studies, neuropeptides, their antisera or drugs that act as agonists or antagonists of neuropeptide receptors, were tested for their effect on sexual behaviour after systemic, intracerebroventricular, or intracerebral administration.
The latter were infused into brain areas relevant for sexual behaviour, such as the medial preoptic area, and the ventromedial and paraventricular nuclei of the hypothalamus.
The above studies show that little information is available on the mechanisms by which neuropeptides influence sexual behaviour.
Also unclear is whether the above neuropeptides influence the anticipatory phase (sexual arousal and/or motivation) or the consummatory phase (performance) of sexual behaviour, except for opioid peptides.
New information about the role of neuropepties may come from the application of molecular biology and genetic manipulation techniques to the study of sexual behaviour. Of these, FOS protein determination, antisense oligonucleotides aimed at the neutralisation of neuropeptide and/or neuropeptide receptor mRNAs in specific brain areas, and gene ablation seem the most promising. Although still in the early stages, it is likely that these methodologies will provide new insights into the role of neuropeptides in the control of sexual behaviour.

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