Cortisol levels during human aging predict hippocampal atrophy and memory deficits
Sonia J. Lupien1,2, Mony de Leon3, Susan de Santi3, Antonio Convit3, Chaim Tarshish3, N.P.V.
Nair1, Mira Thakur1, Bruce S. McEwen4, Richard L. Hauger5 and Michael J. Meaney1
Correspondence should be addressed to S.J.L. (email@example.com)
Elevated glucocorticoid levels produce hippocampal dysfunction and correlate with individual
deficits in spatial learning in aged rats. Previously we related persistent cortisol increases to memory
impairments in elderly humans studied over five years. Here we demonstrate that aged humans with
significant prolonged cortisol elevations showed reduced hippocampal volume and deficits in
hippocampus-dependent memory tasks compared to normal-cortisol controls. Moreover, the degree
of hippocampal atrophy correlated strongly with both the degree of cortisol elevation over time and
current basal cortisol levels. Therefore, basal cortisol elevation may cause hippocampal damage and
impair hippocampus-dependent learning and memory in humans.
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