Wired for reproduction: organization and development of sexually dimorphic circuits in the mammalian forebrain

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2002;25:507-36. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.25.112701.142745. Epub 2002 Mar 27.


Mammalian reproduction depends on the coordinated expression of behavior with precisely timed physiological events that are fundamentally different in males and females. An improved understanding of the neuroanatomical relationships between sexually dimorphic parts of the forebrain has contributed to a significant paradigm shift in how functional neural systems are approached experimentally. This review focuses on the organization of interconnected limbic-hypothalamic pathways that participate in the neural control of reproduction and summarizes what is known about the developmental neurobiology of these pathways. Sex steroid hormones such as estrogen and testosterone have much in common with neurotrophins and regulate cell death, neuronal migration, neurogenesis, and neurotransmitter plasticity. In addition, these hormones direct formation of sexually dimorphic circuits by influencing axonal guidance and synaptogenesis. The signaling events underlying the developmental activities of sex steroids involve interactions between nuclear hormone receptors and other transcriptional regulators, as well as interactions at multiple levels with neurotrophin and neurotransmitter signal transduction pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Genes, Regulator / physiology
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Nerve Growth Factors / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Prosencephalon / cytology
  • Prosencephalon / growth & development
  • Prosencephalon / physiology*
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Nerve Growth Factors