Introduction: Bremelanotide is an analogue of the naturally occurring peptide alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH). It stimulates erection in men and male rats, and is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of erectile dysfunction.
Aim: To review the effects of bremelanotide, an analogue of the naturally occurring peptide alpha-MSH, on the preclinical indices of sexual desire in female rats, and where in the brain these actions may occur.
Main outcome measures: Appetitive sexual behaviors, such as solicitations, hops and darts, and pacing, were assessed along with consummatory behaviors such as lordosis. The involvement of brain regions was assessed following direct administration to the region, by the stimulation of molecular markers of neural activation, and using microdialysis to examine extracellular fluid for different neurotransmitters.
Methods: Using a model that allows ovariectomized, hormone-primed female rats to control the timing of sexual encounters with males, we tested the ability of bremelanotide to increase appetitive (proceptive) and/or consummatory sexual behaviors.
Results: Bremelanotide dramatically and selectively increased measures of solicitation in female rats, without altering pacing or lordosis, following both peripheral (subcutaneous) administration or infusions directly into the lateral ventricles or medial preoptic area (mPOA), but not the ventromedial hypothalamus. The mPOA is critical for the display of appetitive sexual behaviors in females and males of a variety of species. Peripheral administration of bremelanotide activates the mPOA and other hypothalamic and limbic regions of the brain involved in sexual behavior, and may work by activating dopamine terminals in the mPOA.
Conclusions: To the extent that solicitations indicate the desire of female rats to engage in sexual activity, bremelanotide appears to possess the behavioral, pharmacological, and neuroanatomical specificity required of a drug in the treatment of hypoactive sexual desire disorders.