Neurobiology of DHEA and effects on sexuality, mood and cognition

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2015 Jan:145:273-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.04.012. Epub 2014 Jun 2.


Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate ester, DHEAS, are the most abundant steroid hormones in the humans. However, their physiological significance, their mechanisms of action and their possible roles as treatment are not fully clarified. Biological actions of DHEA(S) in the brain involve neuroprotection, neurite growth, neurogenesis and neuronal survival, apoptosis, catecholamine synthesis and secretion, as well as anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiglucocorticoid effects. In addition, DHEA affects neurosteroidogenis and endorphin synthesis/release. We also demonstrated in a model of ovariectomized rats that DHEA therapy increases proceptive behaviors, already after 1 week of treatment, affecting central function of sexual drive. In women, the analyses of clinical outcomes are far from being conclusive and many issues should still be addressed. Although DHEA preparations have been available in the market since the 1990s, there are very few definitive reports on the biological functions of this steroid. We demonstrate that 1 year DHEA administration at the dose of 10mg provided a significant improvement in comparison with vitamin D in sexual function and in frequency of sexual intercourse in early postmenopausal women. Among symptomatic women, the spectrum of symptoms responding to DHEA requires further investigation, to define the type of sexual symptoms (e.g. decreased sexual function or hypoactive sexual desire disorder) and the degree of mood/cognitive symptoms that could be responsive to hormonal treatment. In this regard, our findings are promising, although they need further exploration with a larger and more representative sample size. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Essential role of DHEA.

Keywords: Brain; DHEA; DHEA treatment; DHEAS; Sexual function.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect*
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cognition Disorders / metabolism
  • Cognition*
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / metabolism*
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate / metabolism
  • Depression / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mood Disorders / metabolism
  • Neurobiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Sexual Behavior*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate