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Rockefeller, Weill Cornell researchers find link between estrogen, brain structure changes

Scientists at Rockefeller University and Weill Medical College of Cornell University have discovered how estrogen initiates physical changes in rodent brain cells that lead to increased learning and memory -- a finding, the researchers contend, that illustrates the likely value of the hormone to enhance brain functioning in women.

Their study, published in the March 15 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, describes for the first time a chain of molecular events that is activated in the brain's primary memory center, called the hippocampus, when estrogen bathes neurons (nerve cells).

The study details how these nerve cells "grow in complexity" when exposed to estrogen, increasing connections among nerve cells in an area of the brain needed to store new memories, retrieve older ones and even recall location of an object or event in space.

A second study, published in the same journal by Weill Cornell Medical College scientists, led by Teresa Milner, Ph.D., in collaboration with Rockefeller University investigators, finds the same results in animal tissue experiments. Both the first study, at the test tube level, and the Milner tissue study were conducted simultaneously but independently, and serve as sort of "blind controls" in support of each other.

"We found a novel way in which estrogen affects neuronal structural remodeling in the hippocampus," says paper co-author Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D., Professor and head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller University.

"It shows us that estrogen plays an unsuspected role in primary biological processes involved in strengthening normal learning and memory function," says McEwen.

"We observed the neuronal structural remodeling at the subcellular level through electron microscopy," notes Milner, professor of neuroscience in the Division of Neurobiology at Weill Cornell. "We were able to visualize precise changes in protein di
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Contact: Joseph Bonner
bonnerj@mail.rockefeller.edu
212-327-8998
Rockefeller University
14-Mar-2003


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