Activation of Neural Pathways Associated with Sexual Arousal in Non-Human Primates

Craig F. Ferris, Charles T. Snowdon, Jean A. King, John M. Sullivan, Toni E. Ziegler, David P. Olson, Nancy J. Schultz-Darken, Pamela L. Tannenbaum, Reinhold Ludwig, Ziji Wu, Almuth Einspanier, J. Thomas Vaughan, Timothy Q. Duong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Purpose: To evaluate brain activity associated with sexual arousal, fully conscious male marmoset monkeys were imaged during presentation of odors that naturally elicit high levels of sexual activity and sexual motivation. Material and Methods: Male monkeys were lightly anesthetized, secured in a head and body restrainer with a built-in birdcage resonator and positioned in a 9.4-Tesla spectrometer. When fully conscious, monkeys were presented with the odors of a novel receptive female or an ovariectomized monkey. Both odors were presented during an imaging trial and the presentation of odors was counterbalanced. Significant changes in both positive and negative BOLD signal were mapped and averaged. Results: Periovulatory odors significantly increased positive BOLD signal in several cortical areas: the striatum, hippocampus, septum, periaqueductal gray, and cerebellum, in comparison with odors from ovariectomized monkeys. Conversely, negative BOLD signal was significantly increased in the temporal cortex, cingulate cortex, putamen, hippocampus, substantia nigra, medial preoptic area, and cerebellum with presentation of odors from ovariectomized marmosets as compared to periovulatory odors. A common neural circuit comprising the temporal and cingulate cortices, putamen, hippocampus, medial preoptic area, and cerebellum shared both the positive BOLD response to periovulatory odors and the negative BOLD response to odors of ovariectomized females. Conclusion: These data suggest the odor-driven enhancement and suppression of sexual arousal affect neuronal activity in many of the same general brain areas. These areas included not only those associated with sexual activity, but also areas involved in emotional processing and reward.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)168-175
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Approach/avoidance
  • BOLD technique
  • Cerebellum
  • Common marmoset
  • Functional imaging
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Neural circuit
  • Sexual motivation
  • Suppressed sexual activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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