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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 May 23;103(21):8269-74. Epub 2006 May 16.

Brain response to putative pheromones in lesbian women.

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Department of Medicine, and Stockholm Brain Institute, Karolinska University Hospital, Karolinska Institutet, 171 76 Stockholm, Sweden.

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  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jul 18;103(29):11098.


The progesterone derivative 4,16-androstadien-3-one (AND) and the estrogen-like steroid estra-1,3,5(10),16-tetraen-3-ol (EST) are candidate compounds for human pheromones. In previous positron emission tomography studies, we found that smelling AND and EST activated regions primarily incorporating the sexually dimorphic nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus, that this activation was differentiated with respect to sex and compound, and that homosexual men processed AND congruently with heterosexual women rather than heterosexual men. These observations indicate involvement of the anterior hypothalamus in physiological processes related to sexual orientation in humans. We expand the information on this issue in the present study by performing identical positron emission tomography experiments on 12 lesbian women. In contrast to heterosexual women, lesbian women processed AND stimuli by the olfactory networks and not the anterior hypothalamus. Furthermore, when smelling EST, they partly shared activation of the anterior hypothalamus with heterosexual men. These data support our previous results about differentiated processing of pheromone-like stimuli in humans and further strengthen the notion of a coupling between hypothalamic neuronal circuits and sexual preferences.

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