Hormones and Behaviour


Hormones are chemical messengers that are produced by the body and act on target tissue within the same individual. Importantly, not only can hormones act to influence behaviour, but the behaviour of an individual can also affect its own hormones.

Keywords: endocrine; testosterone; oestrogen; ovary; testis; receptor; pituitary; hypothalmus

Figure 1.

The biosynthetic pathway for the production of steroid hormones from plasma cholesterol. Cholesterol is first converted to pregnenolone, which serves as a prohormone (i.e. precursor) for all other steroid hormones. Relevant enzymes are depicted in italics. HSD, hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase.

Figure 2.

Interaction between a steroid hormone and its receptor. The lipid‐soluble steroid passes through the cellular membrane and enters the target cell. Subsequently, the steroid molecule enters the cell nucleus and binds to its receptor. The binding of the steroid to its receptor causes the DNA binding domain of the receptor protein to dissociate from a heat‐shock protein (HSP). Following dissociation from the HSP, the hormone–receptor complex binds to an acceptor site on the DNA and initiates a process whereby a gene is transcribed into mRNA. The mRNA then exits the nucleus and serves as a template for protein synthesis on the ribosomes of the rough endoplasmic reticulum (ER).

Figure 3.

The process of sexual differentiation in mammalian vertebrates. This diagram highlights the importance of hormones in regulating the sexual differentiation of both secondary sexual characteristics and behaviour. Additional details on the process of sexual differentiation can be found in the text.


Further Reading

Brown RE (1994) An Introduction to Neuroendocrinology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cooke B, Hegstrom CD, Villeneuve LS and Breedlove SM (1998) Sexual differentiation of the vertebrate brain: principles and mechanisms. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology 19: 323–362.

Food and Drug Administration (2000) [http://www.FDA.gov] [Information on the regulation of the prescription and sale of hormones.]

Nelson RJ (2000) An Introduction to Behavioral Endocrinology, 2nd edn. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

Norman AN and Litwack G (1997) Hormones. San Diego: Academic Press.

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Silver, Rae, and Kriegsfeld, Lance J(Apr 2001) Hormones and Behaviour. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0000146]