Growth hormone, prolactin, and sexuality
M. Galdiero, R. Pivonello, L.F.S. Grasso, A. Cozzolino, and A. Colao
Department of Molecular and Clinical Endocrinology and Oncology, Section of Endocrinology, University of Naples “Federico II”, Naples, Italy

GH and PRL, although not considered as ‘classical’ sexual hormones, could play a role in the endocrine control of sexual function both in men and women. Physiologically, PRL seems to be involved in the central control of sexual behavior and activity, by modulating mainly the effects of dopaminergic and serotoninergic systems on sexual function. Indeed, circulating PRL levels increase after orgasm and may potentially play a role in the acute regulation of further sexual arousal following orgasm both in men and women. On the other hand, either short-term or long-term PRL increase can modulate central nervous system areas involved in the control of sexual function and, peripherally, can directly influence mechanisms of penile erection in men, and presently only as an hypothesis, mechanisms related to the sexual response of genitalia in women. Furthermore, chronic hyperprolactinemia is classically associated with hypogonadotropic hypogonadism and sexual dysfunction in both sexes. Successful treatment of chronic hyperprolactinemia generally restores normal sexual function both in men and women although this effect is not only related to relapse of gonadal function. Hypoprolactinemia is recently recognised as a possible risk factor of arteriogenic erectile dysfunction while a possible role on female sexual function is not known. The physiological role of GH on sexual function is not fully elucidated. GH is an important regulator of hypothalamuspituitary-gonadal axis and seems to participate in the regulation of the sexual response of genitalia in men, and potentially also in women. Sexual function in men and women with GH deficiency (GHD) and GH excess, particularly in acromegaly, is scantily studied and GH- or IGF-I-dependent effects are difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, a decrease of desire and arousability both in men and women, together with an impairment of erectile function in men, have been described both in patients with GHD and acromegaly, although it is not clear whether they are dependent directly on the hormone defect or excess or they are consequence of the hypogonadism or the different clinical complications or the physical disfigurement and psychological imbalance, which are associated with the diseases, and are potentially affecting sexual function. Data on beneficial effects of GH replacement therapy and specific surgical or pharmacological approach for acromegaly are far to be fully elucidated although restoring normal GH/IGF-I levels have been associated to improvement of sexual function. (J. Endocrinol. Invest. 35: 782-794, 2012) ©2012, Editrice Kurtis

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