Dopamine and Sexual Behavior

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Regarding sexual behavior and dopamine, it has long been known that, for example, injections of dopamine-related drugs into the hypothalamus of laboratory animals can influence the interaction between male and female rats and the number of ejaculations produced by the male. Another experiment has associated sexual activity with dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region well known to be connected to drugs. The far left side of Figure 6-2 shows the dopamine levels in the brain of a male animal when he is undisturbed in his home cage during the first 20 minutes of the experiment. When you transfer the animal to the test chamber, the levels rise slightly, and they rise slightly again when he is placed in the cage together with a receptive female. But dopamine levels go way up with copulation (shown as male and female together, around 90-120 minutes), and after the female is removed, dopamine levels decline. Because dopamine levels go up in the same brain region when we take drugs (for example, refer to Figure 4-5 in Chapter 4), the brain, in a sense, sees drugs and sex as the same. Drugs are as powerful as sex and some drug users report that the rush from taking some drugs is like a whole body orgasm. Quite amazing (also refer to Figure 4-5)!

Dopamine Levels Adderall

Figure 6-2 Mating results in dopamine release. Dopamine levels (a measure of dopamine release by neurons), indicated by "dialysis output" on the vertical axis, increased when the male rat was placed in a novel chamber and again when a receptive female was introduced. A subsequent copulation resulted in a sharp increase of dopamine release. Dopamine levels returned to normal after the female was removed from the chamber. Dopamine levels also went up in the brain after rats received an injection of cocaine (refer to Figure 4-5). From the point of view of the brain and the neuron receiving dopamine, the brain doesn't know whether the animal had cocaine or copulated. (Adapted from J.G. Pfaus, G. Damsma, G.G. Nomikos, D.G. Wenkstern, C.D. Blaha, A.G. Philips and H.C. Fibiger. Sexual behavior enhances central dopamine transmission in the male rat. Brain Res, 530:345-348. 1990, with permission from Elsevier.)

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Figure 6-2 Mating results in dopamine release. Dopamine levels (a measure of dopamine release by neurons), indicated by "dialysis output" on the vertical axis, increased when the male rat was placed in a novel chamber and again when a receptive female was introduced. A subsequent copulation resulted in a sharp increase of dopamine release. Dopamine levels returned to normal after the female was removed from the chamber. Dopamine levels also went up in the brain after rats received an injection of cocaine (refer to Figure 4-5). From the point of view of the brain and the neuron receiving dopamine, the brain doesn't know whether the animal had cocaine or copulated. (Adapted from J.G. Pfaus, G. Damsma, G.G. Nomikos, D.G. Wenkstern, C.D. Blaha, A.G. Philips and H.C. Fibiger. Sexual behavior enhances central dopamine transmission in the male rat. Brain Res, 530:345-348. 1990, with permission from Elsevier.)

In a study of human subjects who had recently fallen in love, there were activations in the ventral tegmental area, part of the dopamine mesolimbic system. In studies of male orgasms, the ventral tegmental area was one of the regions activated.4 In a paper entitled "Prelude to passion; limbic activation by 'unseen' drug and sexual cues," Drs. Anna Rose Childress, Charles O'Brien, and others from the University of Pennsylvania found that there was limbic activation in subjects that received cues about drugs and sex outside of their awareness.5 The brain can receive short signals that are outside of our conscious recognition, and those are referred to as "unseen" cues; the paper shows that brain reward circuitry responds to these unseen cues. This demonstrates an interesting, additional vulnerability of the brain to drugs and other stimuli.

A major point here is that elevations in dopamine and activations of dopaminergic areas are associated with powerful urges, such as the sexual drive to mate, which is critical for survival of the species. The increased dopamine is associated with something that feels good, or with something that you want to do again and again.

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  • Katrin
    Does dopamine relate to sexual beahviours?
    5 months ago

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