On the cognitive impact of endogenous and exogenous hormone exposures across the lifespan

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Women are exposed to numerous endogenous and exogenous hormones across the lifespan. In the last several decades, the prescription of novel hormonal contraceptives and hormone therapies (HTs) have resulted in

Women are exposed to numerous endogenous and exogenous hormones across the lifespan. In the last several decades, the prescription of novel hormonal contraceptives and hormone therapies (HTs) have resulted in aging women that have a unique hormone exposure history; little is known about the impact of these hormone exposures on short- and long- term brain health. The goal of my dissertation was to understand how lifetime hormone exposures shape the female cognitive phenotype using several innovative approaches, including a new human spatial working memory task, the human radial arm maze (HRAM), and several rodent menopause models with variants of clinically used hormone treatments. Using the HRAM (chapter 2) and established human neuropsychological tests, I determined males outperformed females with high endogenous or exogenous estrogen levels on visuospatial tasks and the spatial working memory HRAM (chapter 3). Evaluating the synthetic estrogen in contraceptives, ethinyl estradiol (EE), I found a high EE dose impaired spatial working memory in ovariectomized (Ovx) rats, medium and high EE doses reduced choline-acetyltransferace-immunoreactive neuron population estimates in the basal forebrain following Ovx (chapter 4), and low EE impaired spatial cognition in ovary-intact rats (chapter 5). Assessing the impact of several clinically-used HTs, I identified a window of opportunity around ovarian follicular depletion outside of which the HT conjugated equine estrogens (CEE) was detrimental to spatial memory (chapter 6), as well as therapeutic potentials for synthetic contraceptive hormones (chapter 9) and bioidentical estradiol (chapter 7) during and after the transition to menopause. Chapter 6 and 7 findings, that estradiol and Ovx benefitted cognition after the menopause transition, but CEE did not, are perhaps due to the negative impact of ovarian-produced, androstenedione-derived estrone; indeed, blocking androstenedione’s conversion to estrone prevented its cognitive impairments (chapter 8). Finally, I determined that EE combined with the popular progestin levonorgestrel benefited spatial memory during the transition to menopause, a profile not seen with estradiol, levonorgestrel, or EE alone (chapter 9). This work identifies several cognitively safe, and enhancing, hormonal treatment options at different time points throughout female aging, revealing promising avenues toward optimizing female health.