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CU Scientists Find New Use for Old Hormone

Vocal Dominance

Face Off

Columbia scientists have found a new use for an old hormone. Gonadotropin, previously thought to only promote steroid secretion from the gonads, also acts directly on the brain to promote sex behavior. Multiple sites of action of this pituitary hormone integrate courtship behaviors with reproduction. The findings were reported in the Feb. 7 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by postdoctoral fellow Eun Jin Yang, graduate fellow Brian Nasipak, and Darcy B. Kelley, professor of biological sciences.

The novel action of gonadotropin was discovered in the South African clawed frog, a species whose sensitivity to the form of this hormone made in the placenta resulted in the first human pregnancy test in the 1930s. Gonadotropin stimulates females to lay eggs, accept male advances, and, as the Kelley laboratory previously reported, sing a rapping song that is acoustically arousing to males. Gonadotropin also stimulates a male song that attracts females. Some of the findings have been captured on video.

"The male frogs are calling in a kind of vocal duel," Kelley said of one clip. "The winner continues to sing and the loser shuts up. They ignore the female; all that matters is their own battle." These new findings show that effects on song in males are via brain regions implicated in song production and perception. Mammals and birds also have these hormone receptors, though no one knows how they function. Gonadotropin might also act as a brain aphrodisiac in humans.

Published: Feb 19, 2006
Last modified: Feb 23, 2007