Steroid fluctuations modify functional cerebral asymmetries: the hypothesis of progesterone-mediated interhemispheric decoupling

Neuropsychologia. 2000;38(10):1362-74. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(00)00045-2.


This study examines the modulation of functional cerebral asymmetries by gonadal hormones in three distinct groups. Young, normally cycling women performed a prototypical left (lexical decision) and two prototypical right-hemispheric tasks (figural comparison and face discrimination) during the low steroid menses and the high steroid midluteal phase. Saliva progesterone levels were measured with radioimmunoassay (RIA). Parallel to younger females, young men, and postmenopausal women were tested at matching time intervals. Results revealed significant interactions between cycle phase and visual half-field in the accuracy of all three tasks for the younger women; stronger lateralization patterns occurring during menses, while a more bilateral or at least less asymmetric cerebral organization predominated the midluteal phase, when highest levels of progesterone appear. Progesterone seemed to have a significant influence on lateralization in the figural comparison task, with high hormone levels enhancing the performance of the left hemisphere (for this task subdominant), thereby decreasing asymmetry. After menopause, when the levels of gonadal hormones are lower and more stable, the lateralization patterns for all three tasks were similar to those of men and normally cycling women during menses. These results make it likely that steroids and especially progesterone are able to reduce cerebral asymmetries. We hypothesize that progesterone attenuates the effect of glutamate on non-NMDA receptors. This could diminish cortico-cortical transmission which is mostly dependent on a glutamate-induced initial EPSP in pyramidal neurons which receive transcallosal input. The reduction in callosal transfer could then suppress the functional asymmetries.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism*
  • Corpus Callosum / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Postmenopause / metabolism
  • Premenopause / metabolism
  • Progesterone / metabolism*
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reference Values
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology


  • Progesterone