A Publication in Nature Communications

NO sex without KISS(peptin)!

In Research Press releases

Photo : Pablo Heimplatz

A research team led by Prof. Julie Bakker (GIGA-ULiège) and Prof. Ulrich Boehm (Saarland University, Germany) has made a major advancement in our understanding of how the brain controls sex. Using female mice as a model, the researchers found that a hormone in the brain, (appropriately) called kisspeptin, drives both attraction to the opposite sex and sexual behavior. These resultats have been published in Nature Communications (1).


isspeptin has already been identified as the key molecule within the brain responsible for triggering puberty and controlling fertility. This study, led by Julie Bakker - Head of the Giga Neurosciences Laboratory - and Ulrich Boehm  - professor in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology - reveals that a subset of neurons in an evolutionarily ancient part of brain, the hypothalamus, drive both attraction to the opposite sex and sexual behavior by two independent mechanisms. They find that pheromones secreted by the male mouse activate these neurons which, in turn, transmit this signal to another population of neurons (gonadotropin-releasing hormone neurons) to drive attraction to the opposite sex. In parallel, they also transmit this signal to cells that produce the gaseous neurotransmitter nitric oxide to trigger sexual behavior.

“This work has provided new insight into how the brain decodes signals from the outside world and then translates these environmental cues into behavior. In many animals, sexual behavior is timed to occur with ovulation to ensure the highest possible chance of fertilization and therefore, continuation of the species. Until now, little was known about how the brain ties together ovulation, attraction and sex. Now we know that a single molecule – kisspeptin – controls all of these aspects through different brain circuits running in parallel with one another.” – Prof. Ulrich Boehm.

Taken together, these findings show that puberty, fertility, attraction and sex are all controlled by a single molecule; kisspeptin. This work opens up new and exciting possibilities for the treatment of patients with psychosexual disorders such as hyposexual desire disorder.

 “There are currently no good treatments available for women suffering from low sexual desire. The discovery that kisspeptin controls both attraction and sexual desire opens up exciting new possibilities for the development of treatments for low sexual desire.” – Prof. Julie Bakker.

Scientific reference

Vincent Hellier, Olivier Brock, Michael Candlish, Elodie Desroziers, Mari Aoki, Christian Mayer, Richard Piet, Allan Herbison, William Henry Colledge, Vincent Prévot, Ulrich Boehm & Julie Bakker, Female sexual behavior in mice is controlled by kisspeptin neurons, Nature Communications, January 26 2018.


GIGA - University of Liège
Prof. Julie Bakker – jbakker@uliege.be - Tel: (+32) 4 366 59 78

Saarland University
Prof. Ulrich Boehm – ulrich.boehm@uks.eu - Tel: (+49) 6851 16 47879


Julie Bakker studied biology at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. After graduating in 1991, she conducted her doctoral thesis in Endocrinology & Reproduction at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands, under the supervision of Koos Slob. After defending her thesis in 1996, she went to Boston University where she was a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Michael Baum for 4 years. Julie Bakker finally settled in Liège at the Liège University, Belgium, in 2000, where she obtained a permanent research position funded by the Belgian Science Foundation (“Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique”; FNRS) in 2004. She was promoted to Senior Research Associate FNRS in 2012 and to Research Director FNRS in 2016. Her main research objective is to elucidate the genetic and neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying the sexual differentiation of the brain. She uses transgenic mouse models for more mechanistic studies on the sexual differentiation of the brain as well as neuroimaging techniques (functional and structural MRI) and postmortem analyses of patients with disorders of sexual differentiation (DSD) or suffering from gender dysphoria (GD) to translate and validate findings obtained in animal models. She is the current director of the department GIGA Neurosciences at Liège University.

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