By Peter Celec, Daniela Ostatníková and Július Hodosy
Testosterone influences the brain via organizational and activational effects. Numerous relevant studies on rodents and a few on humans focusing on specific behavioral and cognitive parameters have been published. The results are, unfortunately, controversial and puzzling. Dosing, timing, even the application route seem to considerably affect the outcomes. In addition, the methods used for the assessment of psychometric parameters are a bit less than ideal regarding their validity and reproducibility. Metabolism of testosterone contributes to the complexity of its actions. Reduction to dihydrotestosterone by 5-alpha reductase increases the androgen activity; conversion to estradiol by aromatase converts the androgen to estrogen activity. Recently, the non-genomic effects of testosterone on behavior bypassing the nuclear receptors have attracted the interest of researchers. This review tries to summarize the current understanding of the complexity of the effects of testosterone on brain with special focus on their role in the known sex differences.
Despite current efforts of the European commission to combat gender issues with respect to gender equality, men and women are different in several important aspects (Cahill, 2014). These aspects include cognitive functioning and behavioral traits. Some of these may be socially induced, but scientists have showed on intact animals that other factors such as genetics and gender itself are mostly responsible forthe sex differences in behavior and cognition. Therefore, the current research strategies are calling for including both males and females in the research in order to report the possible gender differences (Ruigrok et al., 2014). Indeed, the exact mechanisms and reasons of sex differences in brain structures that mediate some of these functional dissimilarities are unknown. Genetics and endocrine factors are the most prominent biological explanations and are interconnected. Testosterone is the major male sex hormone. It is present in women, although in much lower concentrations. Testosterone has also been intensively studied in relation to sex differences and behavioral functions. This review focuses on physiology of testosterone to give the reader understanding of the mechanisms and complexity of testosterone action and then tries to summarize the studies and experiments focusing on the functional changes in anxiety, depression, spatial abilities and memory. Readers interested in sex differences and brain structures might find the needed information in the recently published focused review (Filova et al., 2013).