Cytokines inhibit sexual behavior in female rats: I. Synergistic effects of tumor necrosis factor α and interleukin-1

Ronit Avitsur*, Raz Yirmiya

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The secretion of cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) and interleukin-1 (IL-1) during immune activation induces sickness behavior. We have previously demonstrated that administration of either lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or IL-1 suppresses sexual behavior in female, but not in male rats. In the present study we sought to determine some of the mechanisms that are involved in mediating the alterations of female sexual behavior during immune activation. We report that sexual motivation of estrous females was reduced by intracerebroventricular administration of either recombinant rat (rr)TNFα (7.5 μg/rat) or rrIL-1β (100 ng/rat), whereas sexual receptivity was altered only by IL-1β. A significant reduction of both sexual motivation and receptivity was also induced by the combined administration of subthreshold doses of TNFα (3 μg/rat) and IL-1β (20 ng/rat). These findings indicate that TNFα and IL-1β act synergistically to suppress sexual motivation and receptivity. Moreover, LPS (100 μg/kg, ip)-induced reduction of sexual motivation was antagonized by the combined administration of the TNFα synthesis blocker pentoxifylline (50 mg/kg, ip) and IL-1 receptor antagonist (10 mg/kg, ip), but not by the administration of each of these substances by itself. In contrast, LPS-induced reduction of sexual receptivity was completely prevented by pentoxifylline. These findings indicate that the effects of LPS on sexual motivation are mediated by the synergistic effects of TNFα and IL-1, but only TNFα is required for the effect of LPS on receptivity.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)14-32
Number of pages19
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1999

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Ohr Barak, Edna Cohen, Roee Canaan Inbal Goshen, and Yehuda Pollak for excellent help. Special thanks to Noya Regev and Yael Samuni for the excellent assistance in running the experiments. IL-1ra was kindly provided by Amgen Inc. (Boulder, CO). Recombinant rat TNFa was generously provided by Dr. Stephen Poole. RrTNFa was produced within the context of the BIOMED Concert Action ‘‘Cytokines in the Brain.’’ This research was supported by Grant 97-204 from the United-States– Israel Binational Science Foundation.


  • Interleukin-1 (IL-1)
  • Lipopolysaccharide (LPS)
  • Rats
  • Sexual behavior
  • Sickness behavior
  • Synergism
  • Tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα)


Dive into the research topics of 'Cytokines inhibit sexual behavior in female rats: I. Synergistic effects of tumor necrosis factor α and interleukin-1'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this