Objective: Age-related changes of steroid levels in the central nervous system (CNS) are not well understood. To investigate whether steroidal conditions in the CNS of women change with aging and menopause, steroid levels have been measured in serum and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and examined correlations with aging.
Methods: Serum and CSF concentrations of estradiol (E2), cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), DHEA sulfate (DHEAS) and albumin were measured in 80 female patients who underwent operations for benign gynecological diseases. They had no endocrinological or neurological disorders and were aged 17-71 years; 62 patients were in premenopause and 18 were in postmenopause.
Results: Serum levels of E2 decreased markedly after menopause, while levels of DHEA and DHEAS decreased gradually with age. There was no significant change with age of serum cortisol levels. The CSF concentrations of E2 (0.2-3 pg/ml) decreased with age [correlation coefficient (r)= 0.31, P < 0.01]. The CSF DHEA levels (0.1-0.8 ng/ml) did not change with age although not significantly, but CSF cortisol levels (0.1-0.6 microg/dl) increased with age (r = 0.35, P < 0.01). The CSF DHEAS concentrations were below the sensitivity of the radioimmunoassay (RIA) (1 ng/ml). The CSF/serum ratios of cortisol increased with age (r = 0.30, P < 0.01), as did those of DHEA (r = 0.55, P < 0.01). Although serum albumin levels did not change throughout life, CSF albumin levels and CSF/serum albumin ratios increased gradually with age (r = 0.28, P = 0.052; r = 0.23, P = 0.114, respectively), but there was no significance. There were marked decreases of serum E2 and DHEA levels and CSF E2 levels in postmenopausal women (P < 0.05), but CSF cortisol levels increased (P < 0.05) and DHEA levels in CSF were maintained after menopause.
Conclusion: These results indicate that steroids in CSF become cortisol dominated and deficient in estrogens with aging, especially after menopause.