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Neuroscience. 2006;138(3):957-65. Epub 2006 Feb 20.

Androgen modulation of hippocampal synaptic plasticity.

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Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


This review briefly summarizes recent developments in our understanding of the role of androgens in maintaining normal hippocampal structure. Studies in rats and vervet monkeys have demonstrated that removal of the testes reduces the density of synaptic contacts on dendritic spines of cornu ammonis 1 (CA1) pyramidal neurons. This effect is rapidly reversed by treatment with either testosterone or the non-aromatizable androgen dihydrotestosterone, suggesting that maintenance of normal synaptic density is androgen-dependent, via a mechanism that does not require intermediate estrogen biosynthesis. Similar effects of these androgens are observed in ovariectomized female rats, except that in the female the actions of testosterone include a substantial contribution from estrogen formation. The ability to stimulate hippocampal spine synapse density is not directly related to systemic androgenic potency: thus, weak androgens such as dehydroepiandrosterone exert effects that are comparable to those of dihydrotestosterone; while partial agonist responses are observed after injection of the synthetic antiandrogen, flutamide. These data provide a morphological counterpart to observations that androgens enhance cognitive function and mood state, suggesting that these effects may result at least in part from hippocampal neurotrophic responses. The unusual specificity of these responses raises the possibility that effects of androgens on the brain may be mediated via different mechanisms than the masculinizing actions of these steroids in non-neural androgen target organs.

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