Distinctive brain blood flow patterns associated with sexual dysfunction

July 16, 2013
This is Dr. Michael P. Diamond, Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University. Credit: Phil Jones

Premenopausal women who aren't interested in sex and are unhappy about this reality have distinctive blood flow patterns in their brains in response to explicit videos compared to women with normal sexual function, researchers report.

A study of 16 women – six with normal sexual function and 10 with clear symptoms of dysfunction – showed distinct differences in activation of involved in making and retrieving memories, and determining how attentive they are to their response to sexual stimuli, researchers report in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

Up to 20 percent of women may have this form of sexual dysfunction, called hypoactive , for which there are no proven therapies, said Dr. Michael P. Diamond, Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.

Researchers hope that a clearer understanding of in these women will provide targets as well as a method to objectively assess therapies, said Diamond, the study's senior author.

"There are site-specific alterations in blood flow in the brains of individuals with hypoactive sexual disorders versus those with normal sexual function," Diamond said. "This tells me there is a physiologic means of assessing hypoactive sexual desire and that as we move forward with therapeutics, whether it's counseling or medications, we can look to see whether changes occur in those regions."

Viagra, developed in the 1990s as way to increase the heart rate of sick babies, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1998 to also treat , a major cause of sexual dysfunction. While several more options for men have been developed since, no FDA-approved options are available for women experiencing hypoactive sexual desire, Diamond said. He notes that a possible critical flaw in developing and evaluating therapies for women may be the inability to objectively measure results, other than with a woman's self-reporting of its impact on sexual activity.

Years ago, Diamond, a reproductive endocrinologist, became frustrated by the inability to help these women. In fact, many women did not bother discussing the issue with their physicians, possibly because it's an awkward problem with no clear solutions, he said.

While still at Wayne State University, he and his colleagues began looking for objective measures of a woman's sexual response, identifying sexually explicit film clips, then using functional magnetic resonance imaging, which measures real-time brain activation in response to a stimulus, to look at responses.

Their latest study links acquired disorder to a distinct pattern of blood flow in the brain, with significant activation of cortical structures involved in attention and reflection about emotion and mental state. Researchers noted that paying more attention to response to sexual stimuli already is implicated in sexual dysfunction. They also note activation of the anterior cingulate gyrus, an area involved in a broad range of emotions including homeostasis, pain, depression, and apathy. Another key area was the amygdala, which has a central role in processing emotion, learning, and memory.

Women with normal sexual function showed significantly greater activation of areas such as the right thalamus - a sort of relay station for handling sensory and motor input – that also plays a role in sexual arousal. They also experienced activation of the parahippocampal gyrus, involved in making and recalling memories. Interestingly, this area has been found to be more significantly activated in women with surgical menopause receiving hormone therapy.

Diamond notes that the official diagnosis of the sexual disorder requires distress regarding persistent disinterest in sex. Study participants were heterosexual, in stable relationships and had previously viewed sexually explicit images. Those with sexual dysfunction had a mean age of 37 versus 29 in the control group. Part of assessing blood included also measuring baseline responses to neutral videos.

Next steps include taking these measurements in a larger number of women and beginning to use brain blood flow patterns to assess therapies, Diamond said.

Explore further: Study finds link between relationship style and sexual dysfunction

Related Stories

Study finds link between relationship style and sexual dysfunction

March 7, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Deakin University research has shown that being too needy or not needy enough in a relationship can result in sexual issues.

Genders communicate consent to sex differently

July 2, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A University of Arkansas researcher's work on the way men and women communicate their consent to have sex could lead to improved sexual assault prevention programs on college campuses.

Neuromodulation increased scores in study of impact on sexual dysfunction

June 12, 2013
A prospective study of 23 women aged 21 – 71, reported at the International Neuromodulation Society 11th World Congress, showed pelvic neuromodulation for bladder disorders also increased five of six sexual function scores ...

Women with RA report lower sexual function

October 17, 2012
(HealthDay)—Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has negative effects on sexual function in women, with depressive symptoms and disease severity linked to the degree of sexual dysfunction, according to a study published in the October ...

Most women on dialysis may experience sexual problems

April 5, 2012
The vast majority of female kidney failure patients on dialysis may experience sexual problems, according to a study appearing in an upcoming issue of the Clinical Journal of the American Society Nephrology (CJASN). Additional ...

Recommended for you

Male hepatitis B patients suffer worse liver ailments, regardless of lifestyle

July 25, 2017
Why men with hepatitis B remain more than twice as likely to develop severe liver disease than women remains a mystery, even after a study led by a recent Drexel University graduate took lifestyle choices and environments ...

Mind-body therapies immediately reduce unmanageable pain in hospital patients

July 25, 2017
Mindfulness training and hypnotic suggestion significantly reduced acute pain experienced by hospital patients, according to a new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers report new system to study chronic hepatitis B

July 25, 2017
Scientists from Princeton University's Department of Molecular Biology have successfully tested a cell-culture system that will allow researchers to perform laboratory-based studies of long-term hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections. ...

Research examines lung cell turnover as risk factor and target for treatment of influenza pneumonia

July 24, 2017
Influenza is a recurring global health threat that, according to the World Health Organization, is responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths every year, most due to influenza pneumonia, or viral pneumonia. Infection with ...

Scientists propose novel therapy to lessen risk of obesity-linked disease

July 24, 2017
With obesity related illnesses a global pandemic, researchers propose in the Journal of Clinical Investigation using a blood thinner to target molecular drivers of chronic metabolic inflammation in people eating high-fat ...

Raccoon roundworm—a hidden human parasite?

July 24, 2017
The raccoon that topples your trashcan and pillages your garden may leave more than just a mess. More likely than not, it also contaminates your yard with parasites—most notably, raccoon roundworms (Baylisascaris procyonis).

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.