Young Adult and Middle-Age Rats Display Unique Working Memory Impairment and Differential Neurobiological Profiles following Hysterectomy
Hysterectomy is the second most common gynecological surgery performed in women. Half of these surgeries involve removal of the uterus alone, and half involve concomitant removal of the ovaries. While the field has retained the notion that the nonpregnant uterus is dormant, more recent findings suggest that hysterectomy is associated with cognitive detriment. Of note, the clinical literature suggests that an earlier age at hysterectomy, with or without concomitant ovarian removal, increases dementia risk, implicating age at surgery as a variable of interest. While preclinical work in a rodent model of hysterectomy has demonstrated spatial working memory impairments, the role of age at surgery has yet to be addressed. The current experiment utilized a rodent model of hysterectomy to investigate the importance of age at surgery in post- surgical cognitive outcomes and to evaluate relative protein expression related to brain activity, FosB and ∆FosB, in regions critical to spatial learning processes. Young adult and middle-aged female rats underwent sham surgery, hysterectomy, or hysterectomy with ovariectomy, and were tested on a behavioral battery that evaluated spatial working and reference memory. Following the behavioral battery, animals were sacrificed and brain tissues from the Dorsal Hippocampus and Entorhinal Cortex were processed via Western Blot for relative FosB and ∆FosB expression. Behavioral analyses demonstrated that animals receiving hysterectomy, regardless of age or ovarian status, were generally impaired in learning a complex spatial working memory task. However, rats that received hysterectomy in middle-age uniquely demonstrated persistent working memory impairment, particularly with a high working memory demand. Subsequent neurobiological analyses revealed young rats that underwent hysterectomy had reduced relative FosB expression in the Entorhinal Cortex compared to sham controls, where no significant effects were observed for rats that received surgery in middle-age. Finally, unique relationships between neurobiological and behavioral outcomes were observed largely for sham rats, suggesting that such surgical manipulations might modulate these relationships. Taken together, these findings suggest that age at surgery plays an important role in learning and memory outcomes following hysterectomy, and demonstrate the need for further research into the role of the uterus in communications between the reproductive tract and brain.