Organizational and activational effects of sex steroids on brain and behavior: a reanalysis

Horm Behav. 1985 Dec;19(4):469-98. doi: 10.1016/0018-506x(85)90042-x.


The actions of sex steroids on brain and behavior traditionally have been divided into organizational and activational effects. Organizational effects are permanent and occur early in development; activational effects are transient and occur throughout life. Over the past decade, experimental results have accumulated which do not fit such a simple two-process theory. Specifically, the characteristics said to distinguish organizational and activational effects on behavior are sometimes mixed, as when permanent effects occur in adulthood. Attempts to determine whether specific cellular processes are uniquely associated with either organizational or activational effects are unsuccessful. These considerations blur the organizational-activational distinction sufficiently to suggest that a rigid dichotomy is no longer tenable.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Birds
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain Mapping
  • Dihydrotestosterone / pharmacology
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Estrogens / physiology
  • Female
  • Gerbillinae
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / pharmacology*
  • Hypothalamus, Middle / drug effects
  • Male
  • Penis / innervation
  • Peromyscus
  • Preoptic Area / anatomy & histology
  • Rats
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Spinal Cord / drug effects
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology
  • Testosterone / pharmacology
  • Vocalization, Animal


  • Estrogens
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Dihydrotestosterone
  • Tamoxifen
  • Testosterone
  • Estradiol