Estrogen and Cognition

Source: Wickelgren I. Estrogen stakes claim to cognition. Research News, Science 1997;276:675-676.

This short summary cites several past fundamental experiments indicating that estrogens can stimulate nerve cell development in embryos. More recently, scientists at Rockefeller University found that estrogen replacement in ovariectomized rats stimulated the neuronal genesis of choline acetyltransferase in the basal forebrain. Subsequently, other investigators found that estrogens helped to generate new synapses in adult ovariectomized rats. Now, current experimental work has found that estrogens can stimulate dendritic sprouting of NMDA receptors. Further experiments at Rockefeller University and the University of Washington demonstrated that such receptors actually provide increased receptor function.

As long ago as the mid ’80s, Dr. Howard Fillit treated with estrogen seven elderly women suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Three had impressive improvements in memory, but the effort stopped since funding agents refused grant support. More recently, Asthana reported at the 1996 meeting of the Society of Neuroscience that five of six women with mild Alzheimer’s disease (AD) improved in memory and attention. The results are tantalizing; the hormone is relatively inexpensive and is safe and readily available. Adding strength to these findings, Richard Mayeux in a one- to five-year study of 1124 elderly women found that Alzheimer’s disease developed in 16% of the non-estrogen group compared to 6% in those taking estrogen. Properly controlled studies continue, but I have already recommended estrogen use in five elderly women with early AD and eagerly await reports of their subsequent behavior. —fp