It is said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but a study has indicated that when it comes to sex, food is the last thing on his mind.
Researchers have found that the male brain will seek out sex, even at the expense of a good meal, with specific neurons firing up to over-ride the desire to eat.
However, women do not have the same neurons, suggesting that for them food comes first and offering proof that male and female brains are wired differently.
Although the neurons have only been found in the brains of nematode worms, scientists at University College London (UCL) said it was likely similar mechanisms were at work in humans.
Prof Scott Emmons, a co-author of the study, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said it “helps us appreciate and possibly understand the variety of human sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identification.”
He added: “Although we have not looked in humans, it is plausible that the male human brain has types of neurons that the female brain doesn’t, and vice versa. This may change how the two sexes perceive the world and their behavioural priorities.”
The neurons have been dubbed MCMs or “mystery cells of the male.”
The worm species used in the study, Caenorhabditis elegans, has two sexes: males and hermaphrodites. These hermaphrodites are essentially modified females.
Scientists conditioned the worms so that when salt was present they realized that they would be starved. Over time, the worms moved away from the salt. However, when salt was present at the same time as a mate, the male worm still moved towards the mate. In contrast, hermaphrodites moved away from the salt even when a mate was present.
“We’ve shown how genetic and developmental differences between the two sexes lead to structural changes in the brain of male worms during sexual maturation,” said Dr Arantza Barrios, senior report author, of UCL’s developmental biology department. “These changes make male brains work differently, allowing males to remember previous sexual encounters and prioritise sex in future situations.” The research was published in the journal Nature.