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Neural biology explains ejaculation

How does the body know it has had an ejaculation? And why does it care? Anatomically, it is more complex than it seems, says the University of Cincinnati scientist who last year identified the spinal cord cells that control ejaculation in rats and the neural pathway by which signals travel between the body's sexual organs to the brain.

At the Experimental Biology 2003 meeting in San Diego, Dr. Lique Coolen reviews work her laboratory has done in understanding ejaculation and then discusses her current work in how chemical signals on this pathway contribute to pleasure and reward, key elements in sexual behavior. Dr. Coolen is this year's recipient of the American Association of Anatomists' C. J. Herrick Award in Comparative Neuroanatomy.

Scientists had known for years that there must be a group of cells in the spinal center that control ejaculation. Following spinal cord injury that prevents sensation from reaching the brain, humans and other animals remain able to achieve erection and ejaculation upon stimulation. But the location of this spinal ejaculation generator remained a mystery until last August when Dr. Coolen and a postdoctoral fellow in her laboratory, Dr. William Truitt, reported their findings in Science. Dr. Coolen had targeted the lumbar spinothalamic neurons in the lower back because these neurons appeared active only after ejaculation and not during sexual arousal or mounting. When the researchers used a highly selective toxin to destroy the thalamic neurons in adult male rats, the rats appeared not to notice. They continued their sexual interest and behavior, including penetration of the female. But they no longer had ejaculations, confirming that these were the cells the researchers had been hunting.

With the ejaculation machinery identified as being part of the spinal cord, Dr. Coolen then turned her interest to the neural pathway that relayed ejaculation-related signs from the reproductive system to t
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Contact: Sarah Goodwin
eb3press@bellsouth.net
770-270-0989
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
12-Apr-2003


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