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Physiol Behav. 2004 Nov 15;83(2):309-17.

The role of oxytocin and the paraventricular nucleus in the sexual behaviour of male mammals.

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Bernard B. Brodie Department of Neuroscience and Center of Excellence for the Neurobiology of Addictions, University of Cagliari, Cittadella Universitaria, S.P. Sestu-Monserrato, Km 0.700, 09042 Monserrato, CA, Italy.


The paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus contains the cell bodies of a group of oxytocinergic neurons projecting to extrahypothalamic brain areas and to the spinal cord, which are involved in the control of erectile function and copulation. In male rats, these neurons can be activated by dopamine, excitatory amino acids, nitric oxide (NO), hexarelin analogue peptides and oxytocin itself to induce penile erection and facilitate copulation, while their inhibition by gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and GABA agonists and by opioid peptides and opiate-like drugs inhibits sexual responses. The activation of paraventricular oxytocinergic neurons by dopamine, oxytocin, excitatory amino acids and hexarelin analogue peptides is apparently mediated by the activation of nitric oxide (NO) synthase. NO in turn activates, by a mechanism that is as yet unidentified, the release of oxytocin from oxytocinergic neurons in extrahypothalamic brain areas. Paraventricular oxytocinergic neurons and mechanisms similar to those reported above are also involved in the expression of penile erection in physiological contexts, namely, when penile erection is induced in the male by the presence of an inaccessible receptive female, which is considered a model for psychogenic impotence in man, as well as during copulation. These findings show that paraventricular oxytocinergic neurons projecting to extrahypothalamic brain areas and to the spinal cord and the paraventricular nucleus play an important role in the control of erectile function and male sexual behaviour in mammals.

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