Touching helps build the sexual brain

September 21, 2017
Scheme of the somatosensory homunculus of the rat cortex. Credit: Shimpei Ishiyama

Hormones or sexual experience? Which of these is crucial for the onset of puberty? It seems that when rats are touched on their genitals, their brain changes and puberty accelerates. In a new study publishing September 21 in the open access journal PLOS Biology researchers at the Bernstein Center, and Humboldt University, Berlin, led by Constanze Lenschow and Michael Brecht, report that sexual touch might have a bigger influence on puberty than previously thought.

It has been known for some time that social cues can either accelerate or delay in mammals, but it hasn't been clear which signals are crucial, nor how they affect the body and , and in particular the possible reorganization of the brain.

The researchers first observed that the neural representation of the genitals in the expands during puberty. To begin with, the study confirms what was expected; that sexual hormones accelerate puberty and the growth of the so-called 'genital '. However, what's new is that they find that sexual touch also contributes substantially to the acceleration of puberty.

During their study, the scientists first put young female rats together with male rats and found that the genital cortex expanded as a result. This didn't happen when the females were housed with other females, or if the males were separated from them by wire mesh, thereby preventing direct contact. However, they found that the same acceleration of cortical expansion could be observed when the rats' genitals were touched artificially using a lubricated brush.

Lenschow says: "the effects of sexual touch on puberty and the genital cortex are remarkable since you wouldn't expect this area of the brain to expand at this stage of development." Hence, the expansion of the genital cortex is not only triggered by hormones but also by sexual touch.

"The representation of the body changes in the cerebral cortex," says Brecht, "and in particular the genital cortex doubles in size. Our results help to understand why the perception of our body changes so much during puberty." Thus, changes of the and the concurrent changes in the brain during puberty are not merely a matter of hormones - they are also co-determined by .

Explore further: Puberty hormones trigger changes in youthful learning

More information: Lenschow C, Sigl-Glöckner J, Brecht M (2017) Development of rat female genital cortex and control of female puberty by sexual touch. PLoS Biol 15(9): e2001283. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2001283

Related Stories

Puberty hormones trigger changes in youthful learning

June 1, 2017
A University of California, Berkeley, study of mice reveals, for the first time, how puberty hormones might impede some aspects of flexible youthful learning.

Age, not abstinence, may be the bigger problem in sex education

September 12, 2017
While abstaining from sex is the only foolproof way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence-only education programs often fail to prevent young people from engaging in sexual activity, according to ...

Pyrethroid pesticide exposure appears to speed puberty in boys

April 2, 2017
Environmental exposure to common pesticides may cause boys to reach sexual maturity earlier, researchers have found. They will present their study results Saturday at the Endocrine Society's 99th annual meeting in Orlando, ...

Bodily changes don't always signal 'precocious' puberty in kids

December 14, 2015
(HealthDay)—Children who develop certain signs of puberty at an early age are commonly referred to specialists for an evaluation. But most of the time it's nothing to worry about, says a new report from a leading group ...

Social behavior of male mice needs estrogen receptor activation in brain region at puberty

July 19, 2016
A team of researchers led by Dr. Sonoko Ogawa at Tsukuba University revealed that expression of an estrogen receptor (ERα) in the medial amygdala (MeA) of the limbic system during puberty is essential for the testosterone-regulated ...

Abuse accelerates puberty in children

March 17, 2017
While it has long been known that maltreatment can affect a child's psychological development, new Penn State research indicates that the stress of abuse can impact the physical growth and maturation of adolescents as well.

Recommended for you

Gene mutation causes low sensitivity to pain

December 13, 2017
A UCL-led research team has identified a rare mutation that causes one family to have unusually low sensitivity to pain.

Activating MSc glutamatergic neurons found to cause mice to eat less

December 13, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers working at the State University of New York has found that artificially stimulating neurons that exist in the medial septal complex in mouse brains caused test mice to eat less. In ...

Scientists discover blood sample detection method for multiple sclerosis

December 13, 2017
A method for quickly detecting signs of multiple sclerosis has been developed by a University of Huddersfield research team.

LLNL-developed microelectrodes enable automated sorting of neural signals

December 13, 2017
Thin-film microelectrode arrays produced at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have enabled development of an automated system to sort brain activity by individual neurons, a technology that could open the door ...

Intermittent fasting found to increase cognitive functions in mice

December 12, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—The Daily Mail spoke with the leader of a team of researchers with the National Institute on Aging in the U.S. and reports that they have found that putting mice on a diet consisting of eating nothing every ...

Discovery deepens understanding of brain's sensory circuitry

December 12, 2017
Because they provide an exemplary physiological model of how the mammalian brain receives sensory information, neural structures called "mouse whisker barrels" have been the subject of study by neuroscientists around the ...

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.