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Hormone that regulates reproduction could treat low sex drive

Kisspeptin, a hormone responsible for regulating reproduction, has a much stronger influence on regulating mood and brain activity than previously realized.

Researchers from Imperial College London studied kisspeptin and its effect on brain activity during the brain’s resting state, something that had never been done before.

“Although we have previously investigated how this hormone affects the brain when it is in an active state, this is the first time we’ve demonstrated it also affects the brain in its baseline, resting state,” said Waljit Dhillo, the senior author of the study. “These insights suggest the hormone could one day be used to treat conditions such as low sex drive or depression.”

Think of the resting state like a car in neutral. It’s a period when the brain isn’t concentrating on a task, and studies that delve into the brain’s resting state are providing new insights into the active brain and psychological disorders.

Kisspeptins were discovered along with the gene that produces them, KISS1, in 1996. KISS1 and kisspeptin are named after Hershey’s Kisses because the gene was discovered in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Studies have shown that kisspeptin is a “master regulator” of reproduction and the researchers wanted to better understand how the hormone influences brain activity.

According to the researchers, the study could help pave the way for new treatments for problems like low sex drive.

For the study, 29 men were given a kisspeptin infusion and shown an array of themed images while they were in an MRI scanner. The images were either sexual, negative, or neutral in nature and the researchers monitored brain activity as the participants viewed the images.

In a second visit, the participants were given a placebo and asked to take part in the same MRI test, but the men didn’t know that they had not been given the hormone.

The results were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight, and the researchers found links between the hormone and decreased sexual aversion and increased sexual arousal during resting states.

“Our findings help unravel the many and complex roles of the naturally-occurring hormone kisspeptin, and how it orchestrates reproductive hormones as well as sexual and emotional function,” said Alexander Comninos, the first author of the study. “Psychosexual problems, such as low sex drive, affect up to one in three people, and can have a devastating effect on a person’s, and a couple’s, wellbeing. These findings open avenues for kisspeptin as a future treatment for these problems, although there is a lot of work still to be done.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Imperial College London

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