The potential role of the prefrontal cortex

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The role of the cerebral cortex in the control of male rat sexual behavior has been a subject of discussion for several decades. Early data suggested that the quantity of cortical tissue removed was the factor determining the effect on sexual behavior (Beach, 1940). This observation suggested that all cortical areas were equally important, or perhaps unimportant, for this behavior. This hypothesis was tested in a few experiments (Larsson, 1962, 1964). Results showed that the effects of localized lesions were modest, but suggested that frontal ablations might have larger effects than dorsolateral or posterior ablations. An interesting experiment in hamsters revealed that ablation of the cingulated and retrosplenial cortices enhanced the threshold for sexual arousal (Bunnell et al., 1966). This observation was followed by a study of the effects of large ablations of the medial and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (Soulairac and Soulairac, 1972). This kind of lesion seemed to have a reliable and quite peculiar effect on male rat sexual behavior. We confirmed these preliminary results in a quite extensive study of the consequences of extensive destruction of the medial and dorsal prefrontal cortex in male rats. Subjects with such a lesion frequently started to copulate after two hours or more of exposure to a receptive female, while controls began copulation within a minute or so. As soon as copulation had begun, the behavior of the lesioned animals was indistinguishable from that of intact controls. The number of pre-ejaculatory mounts and intromissions was not different from controls and the ejaculation latency, as well as the post-ejaculatory interval, were completely unaffected by the lesion (Agmo et al., 1995). It appears that the males identify the female as a sexual incentive with large difficulty, but once they have done that their behavior is like that of intact males. Interestingly, an injection of caffeine before the test ameliorates these males (Agmo and Villalpando, 1995). Our conclusion was that coffee sharpens the mind so that correct identification of the incentive stimulus becomes faster. A more parsimonious explanation can be that caffeine enhances general arousal. By the way, another stimulant, amphetamine, had the same effect.

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