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Sexual hormone oestradiol protects female brain in mid-life

09.07.2019 17:43

Sex hormones influence emotional well-being and cognition. Changes in sex hormones during aging, especially the loss of oestradiol, are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. However, it has been unclear how and when oestradiol can protect the brain. A new study led by Branco Weiss Alumna Julia Sacher and her graduate student Rachel Zsido sheds light on this question. The researchers analysed the data of 974 participants from a large population-based study by the Leipzig Research Centre for Civilization Diseases (LIFE).

The ovarian hormone oestradiol is a cholesterol-derivative and the most well-known sex steroid found in the female body. Men also produce oestradiol, but in much smaller amounts. Recent research suggests that increased visceral fat carries the risk of cognitive impairment in later life. The researchers’ goal was to investigate whether excess organ fat is associated with a reduction in the structural networks and storage capacity of our brain throughout its lifetime and whether this interaction can be influenced by oestradiol. They found that oestradiol plays a crucial role in keeping the structure of networks in the female brain structurally intact and the memory healthy, especially in mid-life.

This work was supported by the Branco Weiss Fellowship and a NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation to Julia and is partly based on a collaboration with Branco Weiss Alumnus George Slavich, who is also a co-author on this paper.

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Read the press release on the Max Planck Institute’s website

Read the paper on JAMA Network Open