The medial preoptic area (MPOA) of the hypothalamus regulates maternal behavior, male sexual behavior, and female sexual behavior. Functional neuroanatomical evidence indicates that the appetitive aspects of maternal behavior are regulated through MPOA interactions with the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system; a major focus of this review is to explore whether or not the MPOA participates in the appetitive aspects of sexual behavior via its interaction with the mesolimbic DA system. A second focus of this review is to examine the extent to which estradiol interactions with DA within this circuit regulate all three reproductive behaviors. One mechanism through which estradiol activates male sexual behavior is through the potentiation of DA activity in the MPOA. In the hypothalamus, estradiol has also been found to act in concert with DA, through the activation of similar intracellular signaling pathways, in order to stimulate female sexual behavior. Finally, recent evidence suggests that some effects of estradiol are mediated by direct action of estradiol on the mesolimbic DA system.
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