Just in time for Valentine's Day, researchers discover the hormone kisspeptin can enhance activity in brain regions associated with sexual arousal and romantic love. Matthew Stock reports.
As Valentines Day approaches, love may be in the air.... but it's also in the mind. Scientists in London say a natural hormone - appropriately named kisspeptin - enhances brain regions associated with sex and love. In placebo-controlled trials, 29 healthy young men were injected with kisspeptin and their brains scanned using MRI. SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. ALEXANDER COMNINOS, CONSULTANT ENDOCRINOLOGIST/SENIOR LECTURER AT IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "During the MRI they performed tasks designed to activate certain areas of the brain. So we used tasks to activate the sexual arousal centres of the brain and task to activate the romance sensors of the brain using images. And we observed that kisspeptin boosted the activity in sexual arousal and romantic circuits in the brain." Kisspeptin is found in all men and women, and is vital for stimulating puberty. SOUNDBITE) (English) WALJIT DHILLO, PROFESSOR IN ENDOCRINOLOGY & METABOLISM AT IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "So there's a link, not just with the hormones, but also the stimulation of reproductive hormones but also stimulating how we perceive sexual images in the brain, and that's what the really exciting part of this study been; is how for the first time having a link between a hormone that's stimulating reproductive hormones, but also how our brains perceive sexual images." Psychological sexual disorders can make it difficult for couples to conceive. Biological factors play a large part, but the role of the brain and emotion can't be overlooked. A kisspeptin-based therapy could be an answer, say researchers. It differs from drugs like Viagra, which only trigger a physiological response. SOUNDBITE (English) WALJIT DHILLO, PROFESSOR IN ENDOCRINOLOGY & METABOLISM AT IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "Viagra is very different. So Viagra will cause vasodilation, it will make the vessels essentially dilate, blood will go down to the genital area. So it's a completely different action, it's mechanical if you like. Whereas this is much more psychological in terms of its altering how we perceive sexual images in our brains. So it's a completely different mechanism of action." More research is needed - including on women and then eventually in patients with psychological issues. Kisspeptin could one day help treat sexual disorders of the mind... in effect, mental Viagra.