Neural response to visual sexual cues in dopamine treatment-linked hypersexuality in Parkinson's disease

Brain. 2013 Feb;136(Pt 2):400-11. doi: 10.1093/brain/aws326. Epub 2013 Jan 31.


Hypersexuality with compulsive sexual behaviour is a significant source of morbidity for patients with Parkinson's disease receiving dopamine replacement therapies. We know relatively little about the pathophysiology of hypersexuality in Parkinson's disease, and it is unknown how visual sexual stimuli, similar to the portrayals of sexuality in the mainstream mass media may affect the brain and behaviour in such susceptible individuals. Here, we have studied a group of 12 patients with Parkinson's disease with hypersexuality using a functional magnetic resonance imaging block design exposing participants to both sexual, other reward-related and neutral visual cues. We hypothesized that exposure to visual sexual cues would trigger increased sexual desire in patients with Parkinson's disease with hypersexuality that would correspond to changes in brain activity in regions linked to dopaminergically stimulated sexual motivation. Patients with Parkinson's disease with hypersexuality were scanned ON and OFF dopamine drugs, and their results were compared with a group of 12 Parkinson's disease control patients without hypersexuality or other impulse control disorders. Exposure to sexual cues significantly increased sexual desire and hedonic responses in the Parkinson's disease hypersexuality group compared with the Parkinson's disease control patients. These behavioural changes corresponded to significant blood oxygen level-dependent signal changes in regions within limbic, paralimbic, temporal, occipital, somatosensory and prefrontal cortices that correspond to emotional, cognitive, autonomic, visual and motivational processes. The functional imaging data showed that the hypersexuality patients' increased sexual desire correlated with enhanced activations in the ventral striatum, and cingulate and orbitofrontal cortices. When the patients with Parkinson's disease with hypersexuality were OFF medication, the functional imaging data showed decreases in activation during the presentation of sexual cues relative to rest. These deactivations were not observed when the patients were ON medication, suggesting that dopamine drugs may release inhibition within local neuronal circuits in the cerebral cortex that may contribute to compulsive sexual behaviour. The findings of this study have implications with respect to the potential influence of cue exposure via exposure to mass media in enhancing libido, which in this group of vulnerable patients can lead to devastating social consequences and occasionally, custodial sentences. Stimulation through exposure to sexual visual cues in patients with Parkinson's disease with hypersexuality provides a motivational impetus for seeking this reward behaviour through activations and deactivations of cerebral cortex.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects*
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Cues*
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / metabolism
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / psychology
  • Dopamine Agonists / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parkinson Disease / drug therapy*
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / psychology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Sexual Behavior / drug effects*
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Dopamine Agonists