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New Study Reveals Link Between Sexuality and Serotonin in Mice


New research on female lab mice suggests that there is a link between sexual orientation and serotonin levels in the brain, according to a report from The Atlantic on a paper by researchers from Peking University:

We won't likely trace human sexual orientation to a single gene, but research has made it apparent that sexuality can be influenced by manipulating genes, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Altering balances of testosterone and estrogen has been shown to affect sexuality, and imbalances of the neurotransmitter serotonin can make us hypersexual. In mice, serotonin has been tied to sexual preference -- mice bred without certain neurons have shown "no sexual preference." But scientists have never "reversed" any species' sexual orientation by messing with their genes.

That is, until now. "Researchers led by Shasha Zhang...bred certain female mice that lacked either serotonin or certain neurons that release serotonin in parts of their brains" before observing and identifying their changes in sexual behavior and preference. The results were telling:

Those mice with the mutations showed preferences for sniffing the head and genital areas of other female mice, as well as "try[ing] to grasp ... females by the waist before mounting on their back. ... Females displayed strong mounting preference toward the females, mounted female targets with shorter latency, higher frequency, and longer duration."

"Mutant females lacking serotonergic neurons" showed preferences for females over males. Zhang and company concluded that not having certain neurons that release serotonin "cause[d] a reversal of sexual preference, revealing a role for [serotonin] in regulating sexual preference."

For now, the ethical and scientific implications of similar findings in human beings is a different matter.  However, the linkage remains an interesting reference point to tide over the scientifically-minded.  

Note: The Atlantic assures readers that the term "mutant" is "just a trade term used in every article about genetics ever, describing changes relative to a given starting point."     

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  1. Nice to see they have cured cancer already...

    Posted by: Alan Brickman | May 29, 2013 7:01:21 PM

  2. @AlanBrickman So all other research is supposed to stop until cancer is cured? The cure for cancer is also hundreds of little cures, not one cure.

    Posted by: Chris | May 29, 2013 7:14:24 PM

  3. Wow. Game changer?

    Posted by: Andy | May 29, 2013 7:19:33 PM

  4. Is this research applicable to females only ?
    Does it mean that in males the lack of serotonin influences our orientation towards males ?
    Eh, what does it mean ?
    I guess I should withhold my judgment until I understand what's going on .

    Well, at least that harpie, Bachmann, is crawling back to the swamp......that cheers me up.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | May 29, 2013 7:47:35 PM

  5. A cure for homosexuality would be a miracle and a blessing. I applaud all of this research. I am sure Christians everywhere would be willing to donate funding to such an admirable cause. We need to understand the causes of homosexuality. So many young people are ensnared in this unhealthy lifestyle. There will eventually be a cure and many people will choose to take it. Then we will find out if the gay lobby really believes in free choice and individual liberty. Or if they will want to ban it. I just pray that I live to see the miraculous day.

    Posted by: helen | May 29, 2013 7:54:17 PM

  6. @HelenOfTroll,
    Hopefully we'll find a cure for religious delusion first making the idea of curing homosexuality unnecessary.

    Posted by: Urmensch | May 29, 2013 8:02:39 PM

  7. Until the "heterosexual or else" threat is lifted from gay people, gay people will not be safe. Heterosexuals hate gay people. Regardless of what's happened recently with laws, heterosexuals want heterosexual children. Gay people do not have independence.

    Posted by: Billy Crytical | May 29, 2013 8:13:09 PM

  8. @Urmensh: The truth will set you free. Please read the New Testament. Christ said a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife...Not his hisband. Why wouldn't you want a cure. Then those who wish for god-centered family lives but are afflicted with same gendered attraction will have that option.

    Posted by: helen | May 29, 2013 8:23:47 PM

  9. @Urmensh: The truth will set you free. Please read the New Testament. Christ said a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife...Not his hisband. Why wouldn't you want a cure. Then those who wish for god-centered family lives but are afflicted with same gendered attraction will have that option.

    Posted by: helen | May 29, 2013 8:23:49 PM

  10. Because so many people are naturally born without serotonin neurons. I don't understand this study either.

    Posted by: Paul R | May 29, 2013 8:56:01 PM

  11. @helen: I was speaking to God the other day and he told me to tell you that you are wrong. He also told me to tell everyone that some guy named Leviticus messed up the whole Bible a long time ago because he was mad at his boyfriend and added some crap He never said.

    Don't believe me? Prove I didn't speak to Him.

    Posted by: The Prophet | May 29, 2013 9:04:32 PM

  12. I did not even go back to the Old Testament...I spoke of what Jesus, himself said. Read Mark 10....if I am not mistaken.

    Posted by: helen | May 29, 2013 9:16:15 PM

  13. A cure for irrational bigotry would be the bigger miracle and blessing, helen. Your personal religious beliefs are irrelevant to everyone but you. Now gather your skirts and run back under the troll bridge before Jesus slaps you.

    Posted by: Ernie | May 29, 2013 9:18:01 PM

  14. helen is a typical HATERosexual. Haterosexuals seek out gay people to attack.

    Posted by: Billy Crytical | May 29, 2013 9:22:42 PM

  15. @ helen: Don't you have some goats to stop from crossing a bridge or something? Why would anyone care what your particular book of fiction has to say about anything? I don't go around telling you to live your life according to the tenets of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, or Heinlein's unabridged "Stranger in a Strange Land," do I?

    On second thought... go read the unabridged version of "Stranger in a Strange Land," and live your life by its tenets. You'd be much less of a judgmental twunt, that's for damned sure.

    Posted by: Rich F. | May 29, 2013 9:27:54 PM

  16. @ helen: oh, and you're going to spout Jesus's alleged words from the gospel, why don't you tell the class what Matthew 19:12 says?

    Posted by: Rich F. | May 29, 2013 9:34:00 PM

  17. Why are these creepy Chinese scientists obsessed with finding a cause for homosexuality? How about they find out the cause of heterosexuality?

    Posted by: Brent | May 29, 2013 9:39:02 PM

  18. @helen: Jesus says "Prove I said that helen"

    Posted by: The Prophet | May 29, 2013 9:40:19 PM

  19. I can't wait for DARPA to weaponize this into a fabulous gay bomb.

    Posted by: Anastasia Beaverhausen | May 29, 2013 9:47:21 PM

  20. Alphanso X (Alphanso the Wise) of Spain, observed to an astrologer computing tables of planitary positions, that had he been present when GOD was setting up the heavens, he would ask "Could YOU not use a simpler system"?

    I think that we have not yet finished reading the first page on the "Book of Sexuality".
    When I was on Prozac (a SSRI), I had no libedo. So apparently Serotonin has a role in sexuality, perhaps a major role.

    Posted by: Alphonso X+1 | May 29, 2013 10:06:15 PM

  21. Why do people respond to trolls who apparently get enormous joy from posting on blogs?

    Posted by: Paul R | May 29, 2013 10:07:58 PM

  22. I don't know, maybe this is a piece of the puzzle but here's an interesting little factoid. SSRI anti-depressants increase the amount of serotonin in the blood yet I've never seen even a single article that claims they turn gay people straight.

    However, I *have* seen articles that say if you give SSRIs to "extreme" religious folk, the type of people who NEVER shut up about Jesus for instance, their religious monomania either lessens or goes away. Not that they stop believing, mind you, but they stop obsessing about it.

    Maybe we ought to start putting them in the water along with fluoride?

    Posted by: Caliban | May 29, 2013 10:19:53 PM

  23. Oh well, blame the lesbian rats !

    Posted by: MArk | May 29, 2013 10:22:52 PM

  24. I hate this sort of thing. It sort of implies that homosexuality is wrong and it needs curing. Screw dat Wally. I'm happy just as I am and the world would be a more screwed up place without gay ppl.

    Posted by: Ben Nevis | May 29, 2013 10:30:34 PM

  25. My understanding is an decrease in serotonin levels corresponds with a decrease in aggressiveness, sexual arousal, etc. Which is why people on SSRIs often appear to have a 'flat' affect and are impotent. At least that's my understanding. On the other hand, amphetamines increase serotonin levels often resulting in hyper sexual arousal and aggressiveness. Cocaine of course also increases serotonin levels.

    Posted by: ratbastard | May 29, 2013 10:43:36 PM

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