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Long-term ERT in postmenopausal women with Alzheimer's may worsen memory

WASHINGTON -- Postmenopausal women with Alzheimer's disease who undergo long-term estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) may make their memory loss worse, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Arizona.

The study in the October issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, a journal published by the American Psychological Association (APA), used female rats to study the effect of ERT on memory. The findings are transferable to humans because the conditions reproduced in the study are analogous to that of postmenopausal women who have existing brain inflammation caused by a neurodegenerative illness like Alzheimer's or by head trauma and then choose to undergo long-term ERT.

G. L. Wenk, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Arizona Research Laboratories at the University of Arizona had 40 rats perform a water maze task to look at the interaction of two conditions known to exist within the brains of female Alzheimer's patients, 1) the presence of chronic neuroinflammation, and 2) having too much or not enough estrogen. Both of these conditions are likely to precede the onset of symptoms associated with Alzheimer's. As part of the experiment, some of the rats were ovariectomized (had their ovaries surgically removed) to mimic the changes seen in postmenopausal women. Aged rats do not undergo an ovarian failure but ovariectomized rats experience both the ovarian failure and the alterations in gene expression within the hypothalamus that appear in women in menopause.

The researchers found that the removal of the rats' ovaries was not enough to impair performance in the water maze task. However, the introduction of either sustained estrogen replacement therapy or chronic brain inflammation did impair memory performance in the ovariectomized rats. Furthermore, the combined occurrence of both conditions (sustained estrogen replacement therapy and longer term brain inflammation) significantly worsened cognitive performance beyond that produced by eithe
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Contact: Pam Willenz
public.affairs@apa.org
202-336-5700
American Psychological Association
27-Oct-2002


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