Organized for sex - steroid hormones and the developing hypothalamus

Eur J Neurosci. 2010 Dec;32(12):2096-104. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2010.07511.x.


Steroid hormones of gonadal origin act on the neonatal brain, particularly the hypothalamus, to produce sex differences that underlie copulatory behavior. Neuroanatomical sex differences include regional volume, cell number, connectivity, morphology, physiology, neurotransmitter phenotype and molecular signaling, all of which are determined by the action of steroid hormones, particularly by estradiol in males, and are established by diverse downstream effects. Sex differences in distinct hypothalamic regions can be organized by the same steroid hormone, but the direction of a sex difference is often specific to one region or cell type, illustrating the wide range of effects that steroid hormones have on the developing brain. Substantial progress has been made in elucidating the downstream mechanisms through which gonadal hormones sexually differentiate the brain, but gaps remain in establishing the precise relationship between changes in neuronal morphology and behavior. A complete understanding of sexual differentiation will require integrating the diverse mechanisms across multiple brain regions into a functional network that regulates behavioral output.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / chemistry
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism*
  • Hypothalamus / growth & development*
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sex Differentiation / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones