Estrogen treatments may sharpen mental performance in women with certain medical conditions, but University of Florida researchers suggest that recharging a naturally occurring estrogen receptor in the brain may also clear cognitive cobwebs.
The discovery suggests that drugs can be developed to offset “senior moments” related to low estrogen levels, as well as to protect against neurological diseases, all while avoiding the problems associated with adding estrogen to the body.
Writing online in Molecular Therapy in July, scientists with UF’s McKnight Brain Institute describe how they improved thought processes in female mice bred with the inability to produce estrogen receptor-alpha, a protein apparently necessary for healthy learning and memory.
“We were able to restore function in these animals, not by dosing them with estrogen, but by enabling them to use the estrogen that was naturally present in their bodies,” said Tom Foster, Ph.D., the Evelyn F. McKnight chair for brain research in memory loss at the UF College of Medicine. “We discovered that you can affect the estrogen receptor directly in the hippocampus, right where it’s needed to address memory and spatial learning.”
Changes in the estrogen receptor have been associated with age-related memory deficits and an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease among women. In addition, previous studies have shown estrogen replacement may improve cognition in postmenopausal women and younger women with low estrogen levels. Estrogen also appears to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.