Research linking hormone to brain changes, aggression in birds has implications for people taking DHEA supplement

News Release
December 6, 2016
Contact:  Laura Mansfield 425-352-5406 or

Research linking hormone to brain changes, aggression in birds has implications for people taking DHEA supplement

BOTHELL, Washington – University of Washington Bothell research into the hormone DHEA and aggression in songbirds indicates the hormone alters regions of the brain that regulate social behavior. That could have implications for people who take DHEA as a health supplement.

The peer-reviewed paper by Douglas Wacker, assistant professor of animal behavior in the School of STEM biological sciences division, has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology and released online. Two of his former students who graduated with degrees in biology, Lindsey J. Jones and Sahar Khalaj, are co-authors. 

The researchers implanted DHEA in male song sparrows, measured their aggressive behavior – singing, fluffing feathers and spreading the tail – and later analyzed their brains under a microscope. They concluded that long-term use has the potential to change neural networks in the brain. 

“If I was a body builder or a patient taking DHEA, I’d want to know this information,” says Wacker.

DHEA is sold over the counter as a health supplement to build muscle, fight aging and increase sex drive. The performance enhancing drug is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The drug is legal, but users are advised to check with a physician because of side effects. 

The songbird research was conducted in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and funded in part by National Science Foundation grants. 

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