A quantitative and qualitative review of the effects of testosterone on the function and structure of the human social-emotional brain

Metab Brain Dis. 2016 Feb;31(1):157-67. doi: 10.1007/s11011-015-9692-y. Epub 2015 Jun 16.


Social and affective research in humans is increasingly using functional and structural neuroimaging techniques to aid the understanding of how hormones, such as testosterone, modulate a wide range of psychological processes. We conducted a meta-analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of testosterone administration, and of fMRI studies that measured endogenous levels of the hormone, in relation to social and affective stimuli. Furthermore, we conducted a review of structural MRI i.e. voxel based morphometry (VBM) studies which considered brain volume in relation to testosterone levels in adults and in children. In the included testosterone administration fMRI studies, which consisted of female samples only, bilateral amygdala/parahippocampal regions as well as the right caudate were significantly activated by social-affective stimuli in the testosterone condition. In the studies considering endogenous levels of testosterone, stimuli-invoked activations relating to testosterone levels were noted in the bilateral amygdala/parahippocampal regions and the brainstem. When the endogenous testosterone studies were split by sex, the significant activation of the brain stem was seen in the female samples only. Significant stimuli-invoked deactivations relating to endogenous testosterone levels were also seen in the right and left amygdala/parahippocampal regions studies. The findings of the VBM studies were less consistent. In adults larger volumes in the limbic and temporal regions were associated with higher endogenous testosterone. In children, boys showed a positive correlation between testosterone and brain volume in many regions, including the amygdala, as well as global grey matter volume, while girls showed a neutral or negative association between testosterone levels and many brain volumes. In conclusion, amygdalar and parahippocampal regions appear to be key target regions for the acute actions of testosterone in response to social and affective stimuli, while neurodevelopmentally the volumes of a broader network of brain structures are associated with testosterone levels in a sexually dimorphic manner.

Keywords: ALE; Amygdala; Hippocampus; Testosterone; VBM; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Child
  • Emotions / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Social Behavior*
  • Testosterone / pharmacology*


  • Testosterone