Age-related decline in sexual motivation can be reversed in flies, reports a study published this week in Nature Communications. Researchers have discovered a small cluster of neurons in the brain of aged male Drosophila that regulate courtship behaviour.
In many species, from flies to humans, male sexual desire typically declines with age. Previous studies have linked sexual desire with the neurotransmitter dopamine, yet prior to this study, it was not known how dopamine controlled sexual desire.
Tsai-feng Fu and colleagues now report that restoring dopamine levels in a small cluster of neurons in the aged male fly brain results in more frequent courtship behaviour. Under normal circumstances, dopamine levels in these neurons, as well as the frequency of courtship behaviours, decline with age. The authors demonstrate that courtship behaviour is restored when they artificially reverse the age-related decline in dopamine. It is not known whether a similar mechanism is found in other species. These findings advance our understanding of the neurobiology of sexual motivation and open possibilities for future research into therapeutic approaches to sexual dysfunction.