Preoptic aromatase modulates male sexual behavior: Slow and fast mechanisms of action

Jacques Balthazart, Michelle Baillien, Charlotte A. Cornil, Gregory F. Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


In many species, copulatory behavior and appetitive (anticipatory/ motivational) aspects of male sexual behavior are activated by the action in the preoptic area of estrogens locally produced by testosterone aromatization. Estrogens bind to intracellular receptors, which then act as transcription factors to activate the behavior. Accordingly, changes in aromatase activity (AA) result from slow steroid-induced modifications of enzyme transcription. More recently, rapid nongenomic effects of estrogens have been described and evidence has accumulated indicating that AA can be modulated by rapid (minutes to hour) nongenomic mechanisms in addition to the slower transcriptional changes. Hypothalamic AA is rapidly down-regulated in conditions that enhance protein phosphorylation, in particular, increases in the intracellular calcium concentration, such as those triggered by neurotransmitter (e.g., glutamate) activity. Fast changes in brain estrogens can thus be caused by aromatase phosphorylation as a result of changes in neurotransmission. In parallel, recent studies demonstrate that the pharmacological blockade of AA by specific inhibitors rapidly (within 15â€"45 min) down-regulates motivational and consummatory aspects of male sexual behavior in quail while injections of estradiol can rapidly increase the expression of copulatory behavior. These data collectively support an emerging concept in neuroendocrinology, namely that estrogen, locally produced in the brain, regulates male sexual behavior via a combination of genomic and nongenomic mechanisms. Rapid and slower changes of brain AA match well with these two modes of estrogen action and provide temporal variations in the estrogen's bioavailability that can support the entire range of established effects for this steroid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-270
Number of pages24
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 15 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Appetitive sexual behavior
  • Copulatory behavior
  • Nongenomic effects of estrogens
  • Phosphorylations
  • Preoptic area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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