Swedish studies show that mice that receive a
supplement of the appetite hormone ghrelin increase
their sexual activity. Whether the hormone has the
same impact on humans is unknown - but if it does,
the researchers may have found the key to future
treatments for sex abuse.
Ghrelin is a gastrointestinal hormone that is
released from the stomach, and is involved in the
stimulation of our appetite by activating the
brain’s reward system.
Since the brain’s reward system also motivates us to
seek a partner and to have sex, a group of
researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy decided to
investigate whether ghrelin may also affect sexual
The answer is: yes, at least in mice.
In the study, the researchers show that when mice
receive a supplement of ghrelin, they increase their
sexual activity and their efforts to find a partner.
The effect is confirmed in a follow-up experiment,
where mice that received a ghrelin inhibitor instead
decreased their sexual activity.
“It is already known that ghrelin affects the reward
mechanisms that are triggered by food, alcohol and
other addictive drugs. Our study now shows for the
first time that ghrelin also plays a role in natural
reward mechanisms like sex,” says Elisabet Jerlhag,
researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy.
The studies show that the effects of the ghrelin are
conveyed via dopamine, which is a known and
important messenger in the brain’s reward system.
The researchers’ conclusion is that both ghrelin and
dopamine regulate normal sexual behavior in mice.
“However, this does not mean that ghrelin fills the
same function in humans. Finding out requires
significantly more research in the area. But ghrelin
inhibitors may potentially be a key to future
treatments for sex addiction and sex abuse,” says
“Addictive behaviours, including sex abuse, are one
of our major social problems, and there is a great
need for new treatment strategies. Hopefuly, our
results can add another piece of the puzzle to this
work,” says Elisbet Jerlhag.
The article The role of ghrelin signalling for
sexual behaviour in male mice was published online
in the journal Addiction Biology.
For more information
Egecioglu, E., Prieto-Garcia, L., Studer, E.,
Westberg, L. and Jerlhag, E. (2014), The role of
ghrelin signalling for sexual behaviour in male
mice. Addiction Biology.
University of Gothenburg