Testosterone in healthy men increases their brains' response to threat

Recommended by Dr. Michael White, Updated on May 4th, 2015
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PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:

11-Aug-2014

Contact: Rhiannon Bugno Biol.Psych@utsouthwestern.edu 214-648-0880 Elsevier

Philadelphia, PA, August 11, 2014 Testosterone, a steroid hormone, is well known to contribute to aggressive behavior in males, but the neural circuits through which testosterone exerts these effects have not been clear.

Prior studies found that the administration of a single dose of testosterone influenced brain circuit function. Surprisingly, however, these studies were conducted exclusively in women.

Researchers, led by Dr. Justin Carr, sought to rectify this gap by conducting a study of the effects of testosterone on the brain's response to threat cues in healthy men.

They focused their attention on brain structures that mediate threat processing and aggressive behavior, including the amygdala, hypothalamus, and periaqueductal gray.

The researchers recruited 16 healthy young male volunteers, who completed two test days on which they received either testosterone or placebo. On both testing days, the men first received a drug that suppressed their testosterone. This step ensured that testosterone levels were similar among all study participants. The amount of testosterone administered in this study only returned testosterone levels to the normal range. Subjects then completed a face-matching task while undergoing a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan.

Data analyses revealed that, compared with placebo, testosterone increased reactivity of the amygdala, hypothalamus and periaqueductal grey when viewing angry facial expressions.

"We were able to show for the first time that increasing levels of testosterone within the normal physiological range can have a profound effect on brain circuits that are involved in threat-processing and human aggression," said Carr, Assistant Professor at Nipissing University.

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Testosterone in healthy men increases their brains' response to threat

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