Roles for androgens in mediating the sex differences of neuroendocrine and behavioral stress responses

Damian G. Zuloaga, Ashley L. Heck, Rose M. De Guzman, Robert J. Handa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Estradiol and testosterone are powerful steroid hormones that impact brain function in numerous ways. During development, these hormones can act to program the adult brain in a male or female direction. During adulthood, gonadal steroid hormones can activate or inhibit brain regions to modulate adult functions. Sex differences in behavioral and neuroendocrine (i.e., hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis) responses to stress arise as a result of these organizational and activational actions. The sex differences that are present in the HPA and behavioral responses to stress are particularly important considering their role in maintaining homeostasis. Furthermore, dysregulation of these systems can underlie the sex biases in risk for complex, stress-related diseases that are found in humans. Although many studies have explored the role of estrogen and estrogen receptors in mediating sex differences in stress-related behaviors and HPA function, much less consideration has been given to the role of androgens. While circulating androgens can act by binding and activating androgen receptors, they can also act by metabolism to estrogenic molecules to impact estrogen signaling in the brain and periphery. This review focuses on androgens as an important hormone for modulating the HPA axis and behaviors throughout life and for setting up sex differences in key stress regulatory systems that could impact risk for disease in adulthood. In particular, impacts of androgens on neuropeptide systems known to play key roles in HPA and behavioral responses to stress (corticotropin-releasing factor, vasopressin, and oxytocin) are discussed. A greater knowledge of androgen action in the brain is key to understanding the neurobiology of stress in both sexes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number44
JournalBiology of Sex Differences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 29 2020


  • Androgen receptor
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Estrogen
  • Estrogen receptor
  • Glucocorticoids
  • HPA axis
  • Hypothalamus
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Endocrinology


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