Central Nervous System Actions of Ginseng

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Besides the potential direct effects of ginseng/ginsenosides on penile nerve and vascular tissues, ginsenosides may also exert actions on the brain to modulate neurotransmission. Ginsenosides, notably Rb1, Rc, Rg1, and Rg3, facilitate acetylcholine activity [43, 44], are neuroprotective [45-48], and alter neurotransmitter availability [49-52]. The neurotransmitter dopamine plays a central role in sexual behav ior [53, 54], and treatment with dopaminergic drugs has long been shown to facilitate masculine sexual behavior [55, 56]. In the paraventricular nuclei (PVN) and medial preoptic area of the hypothalamus (MPOA), brain areas critical for male sexual behavior [57], dopamine levels are increased before and during copulation [58, 59]. The microinjection of dopamine receptor antagonists directly into the MPOA decreases libido and impairs copulatory performance [60, 61]. NO may be an important mediator of hypothalamic dopamine release [62]. Treatment with NOS inhibitors decreased hypothalamic dopamine levels [63] and reduced male mounting activity [64, 65], libido [64], and penile erection [66, 67]. Although there is no direct evidence to show that ginseng/ginsenosides modulate hypothalamic NO levels, the injection of ginsenoside Rc or Rg3 into the cerebral ventricles inhibits stress-induced hypothalamic activation in mice through a NO-mediated pathway [68], suggesting that ginsenosides directly induce NO production in the brain. Moreover, oral ginseng treatment was shown to increase striatal dopamine activity [69] and decrease plasma prolactin levels [70] in young adult male rats, consistent with a putative role for dopamine in ginseng-induced enhancement of copulatory behaviors.

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