NICHD-Funded Researchers Show Estrogen Effects On Brain After Menopause

In a groundbreaking new study, a Yale research team funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has used sophisticated brain imaging technology to show that estrogen alters brain activation patterns in postmenopausal women as they perform memory tasks.

According to principal investigator Sally E. Shaywitz, M.D., of the Yale University School of Medicine, the researchers used a technology known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which produces computer-generated images of the brain during thinking, reading or remembering. Briefly, the technology measures the increase in blood flow that occurs in active areas of the brain. The researchers compared brain activation patterns in postmenopausal women when they were taking estrogen to when they were taking a placebo. They found that estrogen changed the brain activation patterns of the postmenopausal women and that the changes resembled brain activation patterns typically seen in younger compared to older people. The study appears in the April 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Taking estrogen after menopause has both benefits and risks," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD. "This finding provides important new information for postmenopausal women and their physicians to consider when making the complex, highly individual decision as to whether to take estrogen supplements."

For the study, Dr. Shaywitz and her coworkers analyzed the brain activation patterns of 46 women. In the first phase of the study, half of these women were chosen at random to receive 1.25 mg of a standard estrogen preparation for postmenopausal women, and the other half received a placebo. The brain functioning of both groups was then observed with fMRI technology. At the end of 21 days, all the women went through a 14 day "washout period" where they did not receive either estrogen or placebo. In the second phas

Contact: Robert Bock, Julie Jacob, or Carol Florance
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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