Comasco E, Frokjaer VG, Sundström-Poromaa I
Front Neurosci 8 (-) 388 [2014-12-08; online 2014-12-08]
The level of gonadal hormones to which the female brain is exposed considerably changes across the menopausal transition, which in turn, is likely to be of great relevance for neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders. However, the neurobiological consequences of these hormone fluctuations and of hormone replacement therapy in the menopause have only begun to be understood. The present review summarizes the findings of thirty-five studies of human brain function, including functional magnetic resonance imaging, positron and single-photon computed emission tomography studies, in peri- and postmenopausal women treated with estrogen, or estrogen-progestagen replacement therapy. Seven studies using gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist intervention as a model of hormonal withdrawal are also included. Cognitive paradigms are employed by the majority of studies evaluating the effect of unopposed estrogen or estrogen-progestagen treatment on peri- and postmenopausal women's brain. In randomized-controlled trials, estrogen treatment enhances activation of fronto-cingulate regions during cognitive functioning, though in many cases no difference in cognitive performance was present. Progestagens seems to counteract the effects of estrogens. Findings on cognitive functioning during acute ovarian hormone withdrawal suggest a decrease in activation of the left inferior frontal gyrus, thus essentially corroborating the findings in postmenopausal women. Studies of the cholinergic and serotonergic systems indicate these systems as biological mediators of hormonal influences on the brain. More, hormonal replacement appears to increase cerebral blood flow in several cortical regions. On the other hand, studies on emotion processing in postmenopausal women are lacking. These results call for well-powered randomized-controlled multi-modal prospective neuroimaging studies as well as investigation on the related molecular mechanisms of effects of menopausal hormonal variations on the brain.