The Brain as a Target of Hormonal Contraceptives: Evidence From Animal Studies

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2019 Oct;55:100799. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2019.100799. Epub 2019 Oct 12.


Hormonal contraceptives are frequently prescribed drugs among women, mainly for their reversible contraceptive purposes but also for beneficial effects in some gynecological pathologies. Despite extensive studies aimed at elucidating the physical effects of hormonal contraceptives and ameliorating some unwanted outcomes, little is known yet about the effects of these drugs on brain function and related behavior, which are known to be modulated by endogenous steroid hormones. We describe the current literature on preclinical studies in animals undertaken to investigate effects of hormonal contraceptives on brain function and behavior. These studies suggest that hormonal contraceptives influence neurohormones, neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and emotional, cognitive, social and sexual behaviors. Animals allow examination of the basic biological mechanisms of these drugs, devoid of the psychological aspect often associated to hormonal contraceptives' use in women. Understanding the neurobiological effects of these drugs may improve women's health and may help women making informed choices on hormonal contraception.

Keywords: Allopregnanolone; Anxiety; Depression; Female rats; Hormonal contraceptives; Learning and memory; Progesterone; Sexual behavior; Social behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety* / chemically induced
  • Anxiety* / metabolism
  • Anxiety* / physiopathology
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Contraceptive Agents, Hormonal / pharmacology*
  • Depression* / chemically induced
  • Depression* / metabolism
  • Depression* / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / drug effects*
  • Neuropeptides / drug effects*
  • Neurosteroids*
  • Pregnanolone / pharmacology*
  • Sexual Behavior / drug effects*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Psychological* / chemically induced
  • Stress, Psychological* / drug therapy
  • Stress, Psychological* / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects*


  • Contraceptive Agents, Hormonal
  • Neuropeptides
  • Neurosteroids
  • Pregnanolone