Kisspeptin is a naturally occurring hormone that stimulates the release of other reproductive hormones inside the body. Researchers in the NIHR Imperial BRC have previously found that the hormone can enhance brain activity in regions particularly associated with romantic love and sexual arousal.
In a new study, supported by the NIHR Imperial BRC and the Medical Research Council, researchers have gained new insights into how kisspeptin can alter brain activity in healthy volunteers. The hormone, known as the master regulator of reproduction, has a crucial role to play in sperm and egg production, but it may also boost reproductive behaviours.
This new study, conducted in collaboration with the NIHR Imperial Clinical Research Facility, investigated how the kisspeptin hormone affects the brain when it is ‘at rest’ to try and understand what happens when the brain is active. The results, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight, demonstrated that the hormone changed activity in key brain networks during rest that were linked to increased sexual arousal and decreased sexual aversion in men. The researchers also observed that the hormone boosted several networks in the brain involved in mood and depression.
Professor Waljit Dhillo (NIHR Research Professor; Principal Investigator in the NIHR Imperial BRC Metabolic Medicine & Endocrinology Theme; NIHR Imperial BRC Training Lead) said: “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. These insights suggest the hormone could one day be used to treat conditions such as low sex drive or depression”.
Dr Alexander Comninos (Consultant in Endocrinology and Diabetes from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust) said: “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. 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 important problems, although there is a lot of work still to be done.”
The team are now hoping to further investigate how kisspeptin affects sexual behaviours and translate this work into patients with psychosexual and mood disorders.
Read the full story by Kate Wighton, Imperial College London here.