Daniel Tobiansky (assistant professor of neurobiology) and colleagues recently published an article titled, "Neurosteroids and the mesocorticolimbic system" in the high-impact journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.
The paper reviews the most recent and cutting-edge research on how steroid hormones like estrogens or testosterone are quickly made in the brain and affect brain activity. In particular, the paper focuses on the “mesocorticolimbic system” which mediates reward-seeking behavior and other higher cognitive functions like behavioral flexibility. When you hear about a “dopamine hit”, the mesocorticolimbic system is the neural circuitry that provides this “hit”. Research by Tobiansky and his colleagues have found that both estrogens and androgens (testosterone) are synthesized (likely from scratch) in these dopamine-rich regions, and rapidly and persistently change how the organism responds to salient stimuli. They use a method called liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry, which remains the gold standard for measuring very low, but biologically important, steroid levels in the brain and the blood. Overall, this paper highlights the importance of steroids for executive functions and motivated behaviors.