Effects of interleukin-1 on sexual attractivity in a model of sickness behavior

Ronit Avitsur, Edna Cohen, Raz Yirmiya*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Interleukin-1 (IL-1), a cytokine secreted by activated macrophages, inhibits sexual behavior ill female but not male rats. The present study examined the effects of IL-1 on sexual attractiveness of the injected animal and on the sexual responses exhibited by its mating partner. In Experiment 1, a male rat was placed with an estrous female, injected with either IL-1β (2 or 10 μg/kg) or saline. Males exhibited more mounts and intromissions per ejaculation and longer ejaculation latencies with IL-1 than with saline-injected females. In a second experiment, a male was placed with two estrous females, one injected with IL-1β 15 μg/kg) and the other with saline. Males performed less sexual behavior and spent less time with the IL-1-injected female. In a third experience, an estrous female was placed with two males, one injected with IL-1β (5 or 20 μg/kg) and the other with saline. IL-1 had no effect on the time spent by the female with each male, and only the high dose reduced proceptive (courtship) behavior. In conclusion, IL-1 administration to females reduces the quality of the sexual act, thus reducing the chances for conception during infection, which is associated with spontaneous abortion and abnormal development of the fetus. In males, the chances for reproduction are less affected by IL-1, possibly because reproduction during infection is not as risky in males as in females.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)25-30
Number of pages6
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - 31 Dec 1997

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Ohr Barak, Michal Horn, Porat Leibovitch, Yehuda Pollak, and Roee Canaan for their assistance in running the experiments. This research was supported by Grant No. 94-62 from the United States–Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), Jerusalem, Israel, the Milton Rosenbaum Foundation for Psychiatric Research, and the Volkswagen Foundation.


  • Interleukin-1
  • Partner choice
  • Sex behavior
  • Sex differences


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