Gonadal hormones are known to influence the regulation of emotional responses and affective states. Whereas fluctuations in progesterone and estradiol are associated with increased vulnerability for mood disorders, testosterone is mainly associated with social dominance, aggressive, and antisocial behavior. Here, we review recent functional neuroimaging studies that have started to elucidate how these hormones modulate the neural circuitry that is important for emotion regulation, which includes the amygdala and the medial prefrontal (mPFC) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). The amygdala is thought to generate emotional responses, and the prefrontal brain regions to regulate those responses. Overall, studies that have investigated women during different phases of the menstrual cycle suggest that progesterone and estradiol may have opposing actions on the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. In addition, the influence of exogenous progesterone appears to be dose-dependent. Endogenous testosterone concentrations are generally positively correlated to amygdala and OFC responses, and exogenous testosterone increases amygdala reactivity. Whereas the administration of progesterone increases amygdala reactivity and its connectivity with the mPFC, testosterone administration increases amygdala reactivity but decreases its connectivity with the OFC. We propose that this opposing influence on amygdala-prefrontal coupling may contribute to the divergent effects of progesterone and testosterone on emotion regulation and behavioral inhibition, respectively, which may promote the differential vulnerability to various psychiatric disorders between women and men. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Neuroactive Steroids: Focus on Human Brain.
Copyright © 2011 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.