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The hormone kisspeptin, sexual arousal, romantic love and negative moods (2017-02-05)

Kisspeptin is a naturally occurring hormone that stimulates the release of other reproductive hormones inside the body.
The hormone kisspeptin can enhance activity in brain regions associated with sexual arousal and romantic love, according to new research.

Collectively, data provide evidence of an undescribed role for kisspeptin in integrating sexual and emotional brain processing with reproduction in humans.

These results have important implications for our understanding of reproductive biology and are highly relevant to the current pharmacological development of kisspeptin as a potential therapeutic agent for patients with common disorders of reproductive function.

The reproductive hormone kisspeptin (encoded by KISS1) has emerged as a crucial activator of the reproductive axis acting in the hypothalamus to stimulate downstream secretion of reproductive hormones.
However, the expression of KISS1 and its cognate receptor (encoded by KISS1R) is not limited to the hypothalamus.
Significant KISS1/KISS1R expression has been reported in limbic brain structures in rodents and humans, but little is known about the role of kisspeptin in these areas.

The limbic system has established roles in emotional and reproductive behavior and so may provide a physiological framework uniting sex, emotion, and reproduction in humans.

The study involved a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in which 29 healthy heterosexual young men were given either an injection of kisspeptin or placebo.

In an MRI scanner the men were shown a variety of images, including sexual and non-sexual romantic pictures of couples, whilst researchers scanned their brains to see how kisspeptin affected the brain's responses.

The researchers found that after the injection of kisspeptin, when the volunteers were shown sexual or romantic images of couples, there was enhanced activity in structures in the brain typically activated by sexual arousal and romance.

Kisspeptin did not appear to alter emotional brain activity in response to neutral, happy or fearful-themed images.

However, when volunteers were shown negative images, kisspeptin did enhance activity in brain structures important in regulating negative moods, and study participants reported a reduction in negative mood in a post-scan questionnaires.

NIHR Research Professor Waljit Dhillo, the lead author of the research from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: "Most of the research and treatment methods for infertility to date have focussed on the biological factors that may make it difficult for a couple to conceive naturally. These of course play a huge part in reproduction, but the role that the brain and emotional processing play in this process is also very important, and only partially understood."

As the research is at an early stage, the team of researchers now want to do a follow on study to analyse the effects of kisspeptin in a larger group, including women as well as men.

As a result, the team are also interested in investigating the possibility that kisspeptin might be used for treating depression.

For more information
The Journal of Clinical Investigation
Kisspeptin modulates sexual and emotional brain processing in humans

Imperial College London