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Variations in Menopause Etiology Affect Cognitive Outcomes: How Age, Menopause Type, and Exogenous Ovarian Hormone Exposures Across the Lifespan Impact the Trajectory of Brain Aging

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Reproductive hormones are recognized for their diverse functions beyond reproduction itself, including a vital role in brain organization, structure, and function throughout the lifespan. From puberty to reproductive senescence, the

Reproductive hormones are recognized for their diverse functions beyond reproduction itself, including a vital role in brain organization, structure, and function throughout the lifespan. From puberty to reproductive senescence, the female is characterized by inherent responsiveness to hormonal cyclicity. For most women, a natural transition to menopause occurs in midlife, wherein the endogenous hormonal milieu undergoes significant changes and marks the end of the reproductive life stage. Although most women experience natural menopause, many women will undergo gynecological surgery during their lifetime, which can lead to an abrupt surgical menopause. It is of critical importance to better understand how endogenous and exogenous reproductive hormone exposures across the lifespan influence cognitive and brain aging, as women are at a greater risk for developing a variety of diseases after menopause, including dementia. Using rodent models, this dissertation explores how the etiology of reproductive senescence, that is, whether it is transitional or surgical, influences the female phenotype to result in divergent cognitive outcomes dependent upon a variety of factors, with an emphasis on age at the time of intervention playing a key role in brain outcomes. Furthermore, the impact of exogenous hormone therapy on cognition is evaluated in the context of surgical menopause. A novel rat model of hysterectomy is also presented, with results demonstrating for the first time that the nonpregnant uterus, which is typically considered to be a quiescent organ, may play a unique, direct role in modulating cognitive outcomes. Neurobiological mechanisms associated with reproductive hormones and aging are assessed to better recognize neural correlates underlying the observed behavior changes. The overarching goal of this dissertation was to elucidate novel factors contributing to cognitive aging outcomes in females. Collectively, the data presented herein indicate that the age at the onset of reproductive senescence has significant implications for learning and memory outcomes, and that variations in gynecological surgery can have unique, long-lasting effects on the brain and cognition. Translationally, this series of experiments moves the field forward toward the goal of improving the health and quality of life for women throughout the lifespan.

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  • 2019

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Modulation of sensing and sharing food-related information in the honey bee

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Food is an essential driver of animal behavior. For social organisms, the acquisition of food guides interactions with the environment and with group-mates. Studies have focused on how social individuals

Food is an essential driver of animal behavior. For social organisms, the acquisition of food guides interactions with the environment and with group-mates. Studies have focused on how social individuals find and choose food sources, and share both food and information with group-mates. However, it is often not clear how experiences throughout an individual's life influence such interactions. The core question of this thesis is how individuals’ experience contributes to within-caste behavioral variation in a social group. I investigate the effects of individual history, including physical injury and food-related experience, on individuals' social food sharing behavior, responses to food-related stimuli, and the associated neural biogenic amine signaling pathways. I use the eusocial honey bee (Apis mellifera) system, one in which individuals exhibit a high degree of plasticity in responses to environmental stimuli and there is a richness of communicatory pathways for food-related information. Foraging exposes honey bees to aversive experiences such as predation, con-specific competition, and environmental toxins. I show that foraging experience changes individuals' response thresholds to sucrose, a main component of adults’ diets, depending on whether foraging conditions are benign or aversive. Bodily injury is demonstrated to reduce individuals' appetitive responses to new, potentially food-predictive odors. Aversive conditions also impact an individual's social food sharing behavior; mouth-to-mouse trophallaxis with particular groupmates is modulated by aversive foraging conditions both for foragers who directly experienced these conditions and non-foragers who were influenced via social contact with foragers. Although the mechanisms underlying these behavioral changes have yet to be resolved, my results implicate biogenic amine signaling pathways as a potential component. Serotonin and octopamine concentrations are shown to undergo long-term change due to distinct foraging experiences. My work serves to highlight the malleability of a social individual's food-related behavior, suggesting that environmental conditions shape how individuals respond to food and share information with group-mates. This thesis contributes to a deeper understanding of inter-individual variation in animal behavior.

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  • 2017