Adolescents and androgens, receptors and rewards

Horm Behav. 2008 May;53(5):647-58. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.01.010. Epub 2008 Feb 13.


Adolescence is associated with increases in pleasure-seeking behaviors, which, in turn, are shaped by the pubertal activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis. In animal models of naturally rewarding behaviors, such as sex, testicular androgens contribute to the development and expression of the behavior in males. To effect behavioral maturation, the brain undergoes significant remodeling during adolescence, and many of the changes are likewise sensitive to androgens, presumably acting through androgen receptors (AR). Given the delicate interaction of gonadal hormones and brain development, it is no surprise that disruption of hormone levels during this sensitive period significantly alters adolescent and adult behaviors. In male hamsters, exposure to testosterone during adolescence is required for normal expression of adult sexual behavior. Males deprived of androgens during puberty display sustained deficits in mating. Conversely, androgens alone are not sufficient to induce mating in prepubertal males, even though brain AR are present before puberty. In this context, wide-spread use of anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) during adolescence is a significant concern. AAS abuse has the potential to alter both the timing and the levels of androgens in adolescent males. In hamsters, adolescent AAS exposure increases aggression, and causes lasting changes in neurotransmitter systems. In addition, AAS are themselves reinforcing, as demonstrated by self-administration of testosterone and other AAS. However, recent evidence suggests that the reinforcing effects of androgens may not require classical AR. Therefore, further examination of interactions between androgens and rewarding behaviors in the adolescent brain is required for a better understanding of AAS abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / drug effects
  • Adolescent Behavior / physiology*
  • Androgens / pharmacology
  • Androgens / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Androgen / drug effects
  • Receptors, Androgen / physiology*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reward*
  • Sexual Behavior / drug effects
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Steroids / physiology


  • Androgens
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Steroids