Role of androgens and the androgen receptor in remodeling of spine synapses in limbic brain areas

Horm Behav. 2008 May;53(5):638-46. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2007.12.007. Epub 2007 Dec 31.


Accumulating evidence indicate that structural synaptic plasticity in limbic areas plays a vital role not only in normal brain functions, such as cognition and mood, but also in the development of neurological and mental disorders. We have learned from studies investigating neuronal remodeling that estrogens have an exceptional synaptogenic potential that seems to be specific to limbic areas of the adult female brain. On the other hand, structural synaptic plasticity in the adult male brain and the synaptogenic effect of androgens received relatively little attention. During the last five years, the Leranth laboratory provided conclusive evidence that the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of adult male rodents and non-human primates retain considerable structural synaptic plasticity similar to the female, and that androgens are capable of inducing spine synapse growth in both the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex similar to estrogens. Our recent work also demonstrates that androgen-induced remodeling of spine synapses in the prefrontal cortex of adult male rats is dependent, at least to some extent, on functional androgen receptors, while being entirely independent of the androgen receptor in the hippocampus. Based on these findings and on their many beneficial effects, we believe that androgens hold a great and undeservingly neglected therapeutic potential that could be employed to reverse synaptic pathology in various neurocognitive and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / embryology
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / physiology*
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / embryology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Primates
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Androgen / genetics
  • Receptors, Androgen / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*


  • Androgens
  • Receptors, Androgen