Sex hormones have been implicated in neurite outgrowth, synaptogenesis, dendritic branching, myelination and other important mechanisms of neural plasticity. Here we review the evidence from animal experiments and human studies reporting interactions between sex hormones and the dominant neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA and glutamate. We provide an overview of accumulating data during physiological and pathological conditions and discuss currently conceptualized theories on how sex hormones potentially trigger neuroplasticity changes through these four neurochemical systems. Many brain regions have been demonstrated to express high densities for estrogen- and progesterone receptors, such as the amygdala, the hypothalamus, and the hippocampus. As the hippocampus is of particular relevance in the context of mediating structural plasticity in the adult brain, we put particular emphasis on what evidence could be gathered thus far that links differences in behavior, neurochemical patterns and hippocampal structure to a changing hormonal environment. Finally, we discuss how physiologically occurring hormonal transition periods in humans can be used to model how changes in sex hormones influence functional connectivity, neurotransmission and brain structure in vivo.
An individual RBV limit exists for nearly all patients. In most IME-prone patients, these RBV values were stable with only narrow variability, thus making it a useful indicator to mark the individual window of haemodynamic instabilities.
Sex hormones fluctuate during the menstrual cycle. Evidence from animal studies suggests similar subtle fluctuations in hippocampal structure, predominantly linked to estrogen. Hippocampal abnormalities have been observed in several neuropsychiatric pathologies with prominent sexual dimorphism. Yet, the potential impact of subtle sex-hormonal fluctuations on human hippocampal structure in health is unclear. We tested the feasibility of longitudinal neuroimaging in conjunction with rigorous menstrual cycle monitoring to evaluate potential changes in hippocampal microstructure associated with physiological sex-hormonal changes. Thirty longitudinal diffusion weighted imaging scans of a single healthy female subject were acquired across two full menstrual cycles. We calculated hippocampal fractional anisotropy (FA), a measure sensitive to changes in microstructural integrity, and investigated potential correlations with estrogen. We observed a significant positive correlation between FA values and estrogen in the hippocampus bilaterally, revealing a peak in FA closely paralleling ovulation. This exploratory, single-subject study demonstrates the feasibility of a longitudinal DWI scanning protocol across the menstrual cycle and is the first to link subtle endogenous hormonal fluctuations to changes in FA in vivo. In light of recent attempts to neurally phenotype single humans, our findings highlight menstrual cycle monitoring in parallel with highly sampled individual neuroimaging data to address fundamental questions about the dynamics of plasticity in the adult brain.
The growing interest in intrinsic brain organization has sparked various innovative approaches to generating comprehensive connectivity-based maps of the human brain. Prior reports point to a sexual dimorphism of the structural and functional human connectome. However, it is uncertain whether subtle changes in sex hormones, as occur during the monthly menstrual cycle, substantially impact the functional architecture of the female brain. Here, we performed eigenvector centrality (EC) mapping in 32 longitudinal resting state fMRI scans of a single healthy subject without oral contraceptive use, across four menstrual cycles, and assessed estrogen and progesterone levels. To investigate associations between cycle-dependent hormones and brain connectivity, we performed correlation analyses between the EC maps and the respective hormone levels. On the whole brain level, we found a significant positive correlation between progesterone and EC in the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and bilateral sensorimotor cortex. In a secondary region-of-interest analysis, we detected a progesterone-modulated increase in functional connectivity of both bilateral DLPFC and bilateral sensorimotor cortex with the hippocampus. Our results suggest that the menstrual cycle substantially impacts intrinsic functional connectivity, particularly in brain areas associated with contextual memory-regulation, such as the hippocampus. These findings are the first to link the subtle hormonal fluctuations that occur during the menstrual cycle, to significant changes in regional functional connectivity in the hippocampus in a longitudinal design, given the limitation of data acquisition in a single subject. Our study demonstrates the feasibility of such a longitudinal Resting-state functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (rs-fMRI) design and illustrates a means of creating a personalized map of the human brain by integrating potential mediators of brain states, such as menstrual cycle phase.
Serotonin functions as an essential neuromodulator that serves a multitude of roles, most prominently balancing mood. Serotonergic challenge has been observed to reduce intrinsic functional connectivity in brain regions implicated in mood regulation. However, the full scope of serotonergic action on functional connectivity in the human brain has not been explored. Here, we show evidence that a single dose of a serotonin reuptake inhibitor dramatically alters functional connectivity throughout the whole brain in healthy subjects (n = 22). Our network-centrality analysis reveals a widespread decrease in connectivity in most cortical and subcortical areas. In the cerebellum and thalamus, however, we find localized increases. These rapid and brain-encompassing connectivity changes linked to acute serotonin transporter blockade suggest a key role for the serotonin transporter in the modulation of the functional macroscale connectome.
Pregnancy involves maternal brain adaptations, but little is known about how parity influences women's brain aging trajectories later in life. In this study, we replicated previous findings showing less apparent brain aging in women with a history of childbirths, and identified regional brain aging patterns linked to parity in 19,787 middleand older-aged women. Using novel applications of brain-age prediction methods, we found that a higher number of previous childbirths were linked to less apparent brain aging in striatal and limbic regions. The strongest effect was found in the accumbens-a key region in the mesolimbic reward system, which plays an important role in maternal behavior. While only prospective longitudinal studies would be conclusive, our findings indicate that subcortical brain modulations during pregnancy and postpartum may be traceable decades after childbirth.
Sex hormones such as estrogen fluctuate across the female lifespan, with high levels during reproductive years and natural decline during the transition to menopause. Women's exposure to estrogen may influence their heightened risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) relative to men, but little is known about how it affects normal brain aging. Recent findings from the UK Biobank demonstrate less apparent brain aging in women with a history of multiple childbirths, highlighting a potential link between sex-hormone exposure and brain aging. We investigated endogenous and exogenous sex-hormone exposure, genetic risk for AD, and neuroimaging-derived biomarkers for brain aging in 16,854 middle to older-aged women. The results showed that as opposed to parity, higher cumulative sex-hormone exposure was associated with more evident brain aging, indicating that i) high levels of cumulative exposure to sex-hormones may have adverse effects on the brain, and ii) beneficial effects of pregnancies on the female brain are not solely attributable to modulations in sexhormone exposure. In addition, for women using hormonal replacement therapy (HRT), starting treatment earlier was associated with less evident brain aging, but only in women with a genetic risk for AD. Genetic factors may thus contribute to how timing of HRT initiation influences women's brain aging trajectories.
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