The neurobiology of female sexual behavior has largely focused on mechanisms of hormone action on nerve cells and how these effects translate into the display of copulatory motor patterns. Of equal importance, though less studied, are some of the consequences of engaging in sexual behavior, including the rewarding properties of sexual interactions and how sexual experience alters copulatory efficiency. This review summarizes the effects of sexual experience on reward processes and copulation in female Syrian hamsters. Neural correlates of these sexual interactions include long-term cellular changes in dopamine transmission and postsynaptic signaling pathways related to neuronal plasticity (e.g., dendritic spine formation). Taken together, these studies suggest that sexual experience enhances the reinforcing properties of sexual behavior, which has the coincident outcome of increasing copulatory efficiency in a way that can increase reproductive success.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We would like to thank a number of people who have contributed importantly to this research including Dr. Katherine Bradley, Alma Haas, Margaret Joppa, Dr. Jess Kohlert, Richard Rowe and Dr. Val Watts. Special thanks to Paul Mermelstein for his advice and sustained interest in our work. This review is based on a talk given at the 2006 Workshop on Steroid Hormones and Brain Function, Breckenridge, Co. We are grateful to The National Science Foundation (IBN-9412543 and IBN-9723876) and National Institutes of Health (DA13680) for their support of this research.
- Nucleus accumbens