Cognitive response to estradiol in postmenopausal women is modified by high cortisol

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA.
Neurobiology of aging (Impact Factor: 5.01). 08/2011; 33(4):829.e9-20. DOI: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2011.07.002
Source: PubMed


Estradiol has potent favorable effects on brain function and behavior in animals while in human trials, the results are inconsistent. A number of potential mediating variables influencing response to estradiol have been proposed to account for this variability, 1 of which includes stress. We conducted a placebo-controlled study to examine joint and independent effects of estradiol and elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol on cognition and biomarkers of aging and neurodegenerative disease. Thirty-nine healthy postmenopausal women (56-84 years) received 0.10 mg/dL of transdermal 17β-estradiol (E2) or placebo for 8 weeks. During the last 4 days of the trial, subjects also received 90 mg/day (30 mg 3×/day) of oral hydrocortisone (CORT) to induce stress-level elevations in cortisol, or a matched placebo. The 4 groups thus included placebo (placebo patch/placebo pill), CORT-alone (placebo patch/hydrocortisone), E2-alone (estradiol patch/placebo pill), and E2+CORT (estradiol patch/hydrocortisone). Eight weeks of E2 increased plasma estradiol by 167%, and 4 days of CORT increased plasma cortisol by 119%. Overall, E2 had favorable effects on verbal memory (p = 0.03), working memory (p = 0.02), and selective attention (p = 0.04), and the magnitude of these effects was attenuated for E2+CORT. E2-alone and E2+CORT had opposing effects on plasma levels of the amyloid-β (Aβ) biomarker (Aβ40/42 ratio, p < 0.05), with the more favorable response observed for E2-alone. CORT-induced increases in insulin-like growth factor-1 were blunted by E2 coadministration. Our findings indicate that cognitive and physiological responses to estradiol are adversely affected by elevated stress hormone levels of cortisol in healthy postmenopausal women.

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