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Front Neuroendocrinol. 2009 Oct;30(4):460-9. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2009.04.009. Epub 2009 May 5.

Testosterone release and social context: when it occurs and why.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Psychology, 1202 West Johnson St., Madison, WI 53706, USA.


The functions of rapid increases in testosterone seem paradoxical because they can occur in response to different social contexts, such as male-male aggressive encounters and male-female sexual encounters. This suggests that context may impact the functional consequences of changes in testosterone, whether transient or long term. Many studies, including those with California mice (Peromyscus californicus), have addressed these issues using manipulations and species comparisons, but many areas remain to be investigated. We report a study here that suggests transient increases in testosterone after social competition influence future competitive behavior, but social experience alone may also be critical in determining future behavior. In other rodents, a comparable testosterone surge occurs in response to sexual stimulation, but the function is not entirely understood. In addition to competitive and sexual behavior, testosterone impacts other systems instrumental to social behaviors, including paternal behavior and degree of monogamy. Thus, mechanisms regulated by testosterone, such as the vasopressin and aromatase systems, may also be influenced by rapid surges of testosterone in aggressive or sexual contexts. We discuss how the functions of testosterone may overlap in some contexts.

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